Living with Single-Sided Deafness

I lost the hearing in my left ear through sudden hearing loss in August 2016. There wasn’t a known cause for my hearing loss, I wasn’t feeling ill and I didn’t have an infection. One day the world to the left of me just fell into silence. The hearing loss was profound which means I have no functional hearing in my left ear, and for just over two and a half years I have been living my life with single-sided deafness (SSD).

People with SSD are able to hear through their ‘good’ ear, yet have a profound hearing loss in their other. I am thankful that I am able to hear with my right ear, yet living with SSD comes with its challenges.

Sound localisation is a skill enabled by having two working ears, and so with only one hearing ear, I have no idea where sound is coming from. I might hear some music or a noise, but I don’t know which way to look to see what has produced the sound. Trying to find a mobile phone that is ringing results in me wandering hopelessly around my apartment with my ‘good’ ear leading the way and looking to see if I can spot it, usually ending up back where I started and realising the phone had been next to me all along. Locating a music source is also a challenge. There was one occasion where I was walking in the centre of Madrid, where I live, and I could hear a busker playing the guitar and singing a Bob Marley song. Whilst gazing around to see if I could find the owner of the interesting staccato-type singing I stopped in my tracks with a jump as I almost fell over the person responsible; who was positioned in my path, undetected by my gazing view and lack of directional hearing.

Thinking that all sounds are coming from my right has resulted in some scary instances when crossing roads when I haven’t realised traffic is approaching from my deaf side. It has also resulted in some, in hindsight, comical moments. One day, I was sitting on a seat at the end of a row of seats, on the metro train. I thought that I could hear someone playing the accordion somewhere far down to the right of the train. I was feeling relaxed, and as I tried to focus on the tune that was being played, I saw the woman opposite looking at something next to me. I turned to my left, to where she was looking, only for me to jump up in my seat as I let out a little yelp; startled to see the accordion player was actually standing right next to me, on my deaf side.

My boyfriend automatically walks on my right-hand ‘good’ side where he knows I will hear him. This prevents me from having to continuously turn to face him with my ‘good’ ear, in attempts to catch some snippets of conversation. With friends, who often forget which is my hearing side, or for those who don’t consider it, I place myself on their left. When they inadvertently change sides whilst crossing a road or when they stop to look at something in a shop window, I find myself dancing around them; trying to position myself as quickly as possible back on their left side.

When I’m on my own in everyday places and situations I sometimes feel vulnerable. I worry about crossing the road, and not knowing which direction to move out of the way when I hear the siren of an emergency vehicle. I worry about strangers talking to me, and not being able to hear them, or even worse failing to acknowledge them; if they have addressed me on my deaf side. I unwittingly ignore people to the left of me and often notice a frown on a stranger’s face, presumably because I have failed to respond to them or to move out of their way. I find myself constantly scanning my surroundings; checking people’s faces to see if they show any sign or clue that they are speaking to me.

With single-sided deafness, I find it difficult to hear when there are other noises present. Our brains are responsible for selective listening, which is more challenging without the help of a second ear. In a noisy environment, it is difficult to focus on a single person’s voice. Socialising can be demanding amongst background noise. In restaurants and bars I have learnt to sit in a corner, or with my deaf ear against a wall and my hearing ear facing the person I am speaking to, in order to have some chance at hearing them in conversation. I have learnt that it is only possible to concentrate on listening to one person at a time.

With my single-sided deafness has come tiredness, frustration, loneliness within groups of friends in conversation, and super-sensitivity and hyper-reactivity; meaning I am startled easily by unpredictable or sudden noises. I also have difficulty multitasking and find it hard to perform another task while listening.

Yet, I have found that being able to see some humour and positives, however small, in some of the situations I find myself in, can help me stay positive. For instance, with single-sided deafness, I can block out sound during the night or when having a nap, just by putting my ‘good’ ear to the pillow. I only need to use one earphone when listening to music, and if there is someone I don’t want to listen to, I can make sure they are sitting on my deaf side.

If you or someone you know is also living with SSD, I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to leave a comment and share some of your experiences.

 

This article was recently featured on The Limping Chicken – the world’s most popular deaf blog! 

Author: myhearinglossstory

Hi, My name is Carly. I am 37 years old and I am currently living in Spain. I am originally from a small seaside town in Yorkshire called Bridlington, and have also lived in China and Thailand. I am an Early Years primary school teacher, and have been teaching for more than 12 years. I love walking in the countryside, getting lost in Madrid, going out for breakfast, taking photos, listening to music, storytelling podcasts, baking, running, drinking wine, and eating spicy food. In August 2016, I experienced sudden sensorineural hearing loss in my left ear. I started this blog as a way to inform my friends and family about my progress, for anyone else who is going through a similar experience as me, or for anybody who is interested in learning about this type of hearing loss, and the way it can affect everyday life.

15 thoughts on “Living with Single-Sided Deafness”

  1. Thanks Carly – a reminder to us all of the difficulties you and others in the same situation experience. It is all too easy to assume that still having hearing on one side enables you to lead life normally. So many thanks for this well written, humourous and honest blog.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Hi Carly,
    I’m Cori and I too currently am living with SSD. I lost my hearing in my right at the end of 2015. I woke up in the middle of the night with the worst vertigo I’ve ever experienced. When I moved I got sick. I spent the night on the bathroom floor. Being a health care worker myself, I tend to avoid using the ER at all costs. After a day in bed with no improvement, my boyfriend got me to the hospital. That was probably the slowest I have ever moved as I couldn’t be upright for more than 2 minutes. I couldn’t even dress myself.
    They told me I had fluid in my ear as I was recently on a plane. Long story short it wasn’t the plane and by the time they put me on the prednisone it was too late. That medication was also one of the worst side effect experiences I’ve ever had. I was dark and depressed. After coming out of the fog from the meds it was the realization and adjustment to how my life now was. I was heartbroken and in ways still am. It was like I’d lost a part of me. I feel alone in a sense even though I surrounded by people everyday. The worst part was no one understood. They try to, but until it happens, they never truly do.
    Your story made me feel like I wasn’t alone. Finally someone who gets it and feels what I feel. The similarities are uncanny!

    Thank you for sharing your story. It’s given me courage and the strength to stay positive and keep living to the best of my abilities… as exhausting as it can be.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hello Cori,

      Thank you for reading and for your comment.

      Your experience of sudden hearing loss sounds very much like mine – vertigo at the onset and misdiagnosis from the doctor. I was initially given ibuprofen and nasal spray. I too have a difficult time taking prednisone, which makes me weak, dizzier and very emotional.

      I am constantly adjusting to life with single-sided deafness. I have accepted that this is my normal, yet, like you, I think I will always be heartbroken – this is a perfect way to describe the grief.
      It is difficult to explain to others how all this feels, and hard for others to really empathise unless they have experienced it themselves. That said, I appreciate the support I’ve received from those closest to me. I hope you also have support from friends and/or family.

      I am so glad you could find some strength in my experience. It’s often just good to remember that there are other people going through similar experiences.

      Sending you a smile and wishing you a lovely day,
      Carly

      Like

  3. Hi Carly, I have been following along with your SSD adventure. I also have SSHL (SSD) that happened one day in October, 2018. I have to ask you, have you heard of the Cochlear BAHA device or similar brands? This device has allowed me to hear sounds that appear to be coming from my left side (which I only have about 36% word recognition). My brain can now determine what direction sound is coming from. The BAHA device (bone conduction) routes sound through your skull to your good ear. From your stories, I would think that you are a good candidate for this implant. I’ve had mine in use now since the beginning of April, 2019. Please look at this option as a way to help localize sound direction. This is also for safety reasons as it is important to know where sounds are coming from. You do not need to live with SSD any longer. Dan

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi there Dan

      Thank you for your comment.

      Yes, I have read about the BAHA implant.

      I also think I could be a good candidate for this aid. However, nobody has offered me a trial (the headband) or even mentioned this as an option for me. The only time a specialist mentioned it was very soon after my hearing loss when he was listing a few things that may help. I consulted with a private audiologist who could only recommend the CROS hearing aid, which I trialled with disappointing results. I was told that this was my only option…

      I wonder if the surgery involved is something that is not covered by the public healthcare system here in Spain. I have never seen anyone with the BAHA in Spain, whereas in the UK I have seen quite a few people with the device.

      Or, perhaps I am not a good candidate…You have sparked my interest in this and this can be a question for my next ENT consultation.

      I am glad you are benefitting from the device. It must be great to have some ability to localise sound again.

      Best of wishes to you, Dan,
      Carly

      Like

      1. Hi Carly, thanks for responding so quickly. The BAHA implant is a very expensive procedure here in the US. So far my hospital bill is $41,000 / USD The device itself is around $5,000.00 and I am still awaiting the surgeons bill. I am very fortunate to have excellent insurance coverage with my employer who also is in Spain. I have had the opportunity to visit Madrid. I had a great time and would love to go there again. Back to story: Before I had the surgery, I was given the opportunity to try an external Cochlear BAHA 4 headband. I was not very impressed because it was difficult to position where you received the best transmission of vibrations to your skull. Plus the band kept slipping off and it was irritating to have this band squishing your head. After trying it, I knew that this was my best choice to go with the implant if I wanted to hear around me again and also to get this done while I had insurance coverage for it. Most US insurance companies will not cover Hearing Aids. Because of this reason, it is important to notify your insurance company that this is a Bone Conduction Implant device. I had no problems after this. If you really want to have stereo hearing again, maybe you should do research with your health system in Spain. I wear my device every day because it has restored directional sound. I think this is what you are wanting in your life. You are young and can benefit from this device and restore your quality of life again. Granted, this device is not perfect and only a good audiologist can tune it correctly, eliminating feedback and reducing background noise. Plus, I have the Attract BAHA 5 and had to have a magnet implanted onto my skull, but I had fun with people by hanging paperclips from it. Hope you at least have a choice to get a device. I do not work for or have any ties with Cochlear and there are other types out there that you can investigate. I just thought I would let you know that you did not have to continue to do what I also did and that is to move to the left of people, be left out of group discussions such as at a meal, always saying “what” and “huh”. And there are some great bluetooth devices that stream sound, music, phone calls right to your BAHA. I will continue to follow along while you take your journey. Hopefully you find positive solutions for your SSD.. Kindest regards (Saludos Cordiales), Dan

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Hello Dan,

        Thank you for your message.
        Ah, the system here in Spain is a bit different from the one you have in the US. Since I haven’t been offered the BAHA through the social security healthcare, I would need to explore this option through consulting with a private audiologist, and at this current time, this is something I am unable to fund. However, it is reassuring to hear about your positive experience with this aid, and perhaps in the future, it is something I will be able to explore further. I love the idea of streaming music into it via Bluetooth!

        I’m so glad you enjoyed your time in Madrid. I think it’s such a wonderful city 🙂
        Thank you for your kind wishes.
        Best wishes to you too,
        Carly.

        Like

  4. Hi again. I have almost the same symptoms as you do – only it is my right ear that went! But besides all the inconveniences you mention (one of my worst is in the grocery story with all the ventilation noise and background “music”), I have a constant sound going on. Obviously tinnitus. It is like an old radio you are tuning and you get that whooshing sound between stations. Do you have tinnitus sounds at all? Mine get decidedly worse if I get stressed or upset. Cheers, Carol

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Carol,

      Oh, supermarkets can be so stressful – there are so many noises that I never even noticed before the hearing loss!

      I also have the radio tinnitus sounds and especially notice this at nighttime, when there are no ther noises to mask it. I actually wrote about my tinnitus here: https://myhearinglossstory.wordpress.com/2018/05/19/i-know-a-song-thatll-get-on-your-nerves-get-on-your-nerves-get-on-your-nerves/
      Stress, tiredness, stormy weather and certain foods seem to make mine worse.

      Take care
      Carly

      Like

  5. Hi Carly! Well written piece that captures the experience of SSHL. I recently aquired hearing aids to help with a severe hearing loss that I’ve lived with all my life on one side and a (hopefully never to return) intermittent hearing loss on my “good” side. I recently mentioned to my wife it seems as though more people in the stores are talking to me when I’m out shopping. She laughed and said they had probably always been talking to me but I had just not heard them! I know the aids I have are capable of transmitting sound from poorer side to my good side. While it does not solve the problem of directionality at least you can hear what is happening on that side and then look for other cues to confirm what your hearing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi there Butch,

      Thank you for reading and for the great comment! You made me smile with the comment about more people talking to you in shops now you have the hearing aids! – I’m sure I must miss many comments from strangers!

      I’m so glad you are experiencing good results from your hearing aids, and they are helping you have more sound on your poorer side.

      Wishing you a great day
      Carly

      Like

  6. Hi Carly. I laughed a little reading the part about dancing around people to get your good ear in position. I do this all the time.When we walk on the beach I’m on one side of my wife going one way and the other side coming back.

    From what you’re saying, it sounds like when you are in the right position with no outside noise, you are able to understand people. That differs a bit from my problem. With my high fequency discrimination loss, unless people peak slowly and very clearly, it might as well be a foreign language. Couldn’t agree more with the tedness, frustration and lonliness part! Thankfully, I don’t have the startling noise problem.

    Also, agree with finding the humor. When they were younger, my granddaughters used to laugh their heads off when they would say something and I repeated back what I heard. Still have laughs with my wife the same way.

    Question: Do you use skype? If my granddaughter skypes with you, What is the best time of day to do this? I know we also have to consider the six hours time difference.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi there Al,

      Sorry for the late response, I’ve been visiting family in the UK 🙂

      Haha, yes I always find it comical when I find myself dancing around people in the most inconspicuous way possible, trying to hear what they are saying!

      Yes, when I am in a quiet room, I am able to understand the majority of what is said in conversation. The more I connect with others with hearing loss, the more I realise how many different types of hearing loss there are. The tiredness, frustration and loneliness parts are things I think hearing people may not have even considered as being an effect of hearing loss.

      Yes, I have a skype name, and use it regularly to communicate with my family. If you can send me an email, we can arrange a chat with your granddaughter 🙂 She must be excited about coming to Madrid?!

      Best of wishes,
      Carly

      Liked by 1 person

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