The majority of my patients have hearing loss in both ears. Yet, I am always surprised at their reaction when I tell them they need two hearing aids to compensate for the loss they have in each ear! “Can’t I wear just one?” “Do I really need two?” My response to these questions is simple. Your brain is wired for sound to hear with both ears working together. When you only wear one hearing aid but should be wearing two, the brain cannot process sound as efficiently as it should. You will not hear as well with one hearing aid as you will with two. You would never expect to see 20/20 if you take a lens out of your glasses. But it is a common misconception that only one hearing aid is necessary to assist with hearing problems affecting both ears.
Here are a few reasons why hearing out of both ears is better than just one:

• Listening takes less effort when both ears work together. With binaural (both ears) hearing, you need less amplification and a lower volume setting to hear clearly. Therefore, listening effort and fatigue is reduced.

• Speech heard by both ears sounds more natural and clearer. If you only wear a hearing aid in one ear, sound can appear flat or dull affecting speech understanding. Have you ever noticed when only one of your stereo speakers emits sound? The quality isn’t nearly as loud or clear. This concept applies to your ears as well. With “stereo” hearing, sound is balanced and more natural.

• If you only wear one hearing aid you may need to turn your head to hear when a person is speaking, or ask them to sit on your ‘good side’.

• Your brain’s hearing system helps you perceive space and depth, and helps you balance. Wearing only one aid not only significantly reduces your ability to hear and understand but also affects localization of sound. When you only hear out of one ear you cannot tell where sounds are coming from. This can be a serious safety issue. Imagine not being able to tell where alarm sounds, horns or a voice warning you of danger is coming from!

• If you’re in a busy restaurant or at a party where lots of people are talking, it is easier to pick out the voice of the person you want to listen to when you are wearing two hearing aids. When the brain receives sounds from both ears, it has an easier time being able to choose specific sounds to focus on (speech) while paying less attention to other sounds (background noise).

One of the most important reasons to wear two hearing aids is because of auditory deprivation. This means that further deterioration of hearing, when hearing loss already exists, occurs at a faster rate in an ear without stimulation (no hearing aid) than it occurs in an ear with stimulation (use of a hearing aid). When the hearing nerves and the areas of the brain responsible for hearing are deprived of sound, they weaken making recovery from hearing loss through a hearing aid that much more difficult. To keep it simple…if you don’t use it, you lose it!

Happy Hearing!
Dr. Shannon Gibbons