Why might your hearing loss be different in each ear?


Contributed by Joy Victory, managing editor, Healthy Hearing
Last updated 2019-08-05T00:00:00-05:00

When some people begin to notice they are experiencing hearing loss, they may realize that they have more hearing loss in one ear than the other. Because normal age-related hearing loss—presbycusis—typically affects both ears equally, if you notice your hearing loss is more severe in one ear, it might be something more than age-related hearing issues. Here are some other possibilities for hearing loss causes that affect one ear more than the other:

Woman talking to doctor about her ear.
Always see a doctor if you have sudden

hearing loss in one ear.

Chronic ear infections might be responsible for your hearing loss. Otitis media is the infection of the middle ear. It’s more common in kids, but adults can get it, too. Otitis media with effusion is an inflammation and infection of the middle ear with a buildup of fluid due to bacteria, which can last several weeks. A severe infection can block the Eustachian tube, which typically drains excess fluid from the middle ear, which can impact your hearing abilities. Chronic ear infections can cause hearing loss, anywhere from 24 to 45 decibels, depending on the thickness of the fluid in the ear. It’s important to see your doctor because chronic, untreated ear infections can lead to permanent hearing loss.


Cerumen impaction, or compressed earwax, can also lead to differing levels of hearing loss in each ear. Earwax build up that affects hearing, causes pain and must be treated by a physician is pretty common—it affects six percent of the U.S. population. Aside from plugging the ear and causing hearing loss, compressed ear wax can lead to an infection because it traps bacteria.

Sometimes, however, a lack of good bacteria is the cause of wax buildup and infection. Good bacteria in the ear helps prevent ear infections, but according to a doctor cited in a 2012 New Yorker article, sometimes one ear has the good bacteria and the other doesn’t. If you suspect that you have hearing loss due to earwax, you should visit your primary care physician first, though he or she might also recommend home remedies to try for removing excess ear wax buildup.


Though they are quite uncommon, tumors can cause differences in hearing between ears. The most common type of tumors that can cause hearing loss, called acoustic neuromas, are benign and slow-growing. They affect hearing by growing on the nerve leading from the brain to the inner ear. Because those nerves account for both balance and hearing, acoustic neuromas may cause both dizziness and hearing loss. If you have these symptoms, you should visit your primary care physician.

Sudden single-sided deafness

Sudden hearing loss should never be ignored. It’s considered a medical emergency. Sudden deafness can have many causes, but one of the most common causes of sudden hearing loss is a viral infection of the hearing nerve. 


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