by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
A lady wrote,
I developed a severe, sudden, low-frequency hearing loss in my left ear. Do you have any ideas why I am now having severe difficulty hearing/understanding in situations where there is a lot of noise or a lot of people talking? For example, at the gym yesterday I was talking to my personal trainer and I could understand him only when I watched his face. My ENT said that I should not be having this difficulty because my right ear is good. He said that he felt that my difficulty was “just my perception” A lot of my life involves situations with several people talking or with background noise.
Having difficulty hearing in noise is “normal” for people with hearing loss. You see, hearing loss brings other problems with it besides just a loss of hearing. One of the unwelcome aspects of hearing loss is that you can no longer pick out speech from the background sounds like you once could. The same holds true when you lose the hearing in one ear.
Your ENT is obviously ignorant about such matters and is giving you false information. IF you were in total quiet and were listening to someone, then your good ear should hear well. That much is true. But when you have background sounds interfering with the speech you want to hear, you need both ears working properly in order to effectively separate speech from the background racket. With only one ear, you lose this ability. This is well known. Your doctor should have known this.
What you have to do now is practice good hearing loss coping strategies to put the odds in your favor. For example, when you are in meetings, since your left ear is deaf, sit on the left side of the room. That way your bad ear faces the wall and your good ear hears into the room. You will hear much better when you do this.
By the same token, have people sit on your right side when you are seated so you can hear them better with your good ear. Alternately, have them sit across from you—but never let them sit on your left (deaf) side if you need to hear them.
Here’s another trick. If there is background noise coming from one direction, place yourself such that the noise is to your bad ear (so you won’t hear it as loud) and the person you want to talk to is on the side of your good ear.
In addition to the above coping strategies, you may want to investigate getting a CROS aid, a bone-conduction aid or a bone-anchored hearing aid (BAHA). All three of these kinds of hearing aids “pipe” the sounds from the “bad ear” side of your head to your good ear. However, since you also have a reverse-slope loss rather than the common ski-slope loss, you may find these specialized hearing aids will just pick up a lot of low- frequency noise and make it even harder for you to hear the higher frequency sounds that give speech much of its intelligence.
In any case, the above tips may help you more than a hearing aid would.