An unusual phenomenon in the world of the hearing and those who have hearing loss, the single sided hearing loss or deafness is often the result of illness or trauma to one side of the head or even infection of the bones or ear on one side of the head. The example that so easily comes to mind is of George Bailey, in the holiday classic movie, It’s a Wonderful Life. George loses his hearing in his left ear as a kid because he contracts an infection with a high fever after pulling his little brother out of a crack in the ice. The ear doesn’t work at all because of the trauma of the ice cold water, outside air, and infection. During the period that this film takes place, penicillin didn’t yet exist, so his hearing was lost for good. That is, until it’s momentarily restored by Clarence his guardian angel.
It’s estimated that 391,000 children in the U.S. have unilateral, or one-sided, hearing loss or deafness. This carries into adulthood, but depending on the severity of the loss, BTE, or Behind the Ear, hearing aids can help. No guardian angel is going to restore the hearing capabilities to these children, but hearing aids will. If the problem is with the cochlea, hearing aids will not help and only a cochlear implant will help. For the rest, a series of hearing aids made to assist those with mild severe hearing loss. If the child is quite deaf, usually due to nerve damage or nerve cell death, there currently is no BTE hearing aid or implant that can help. But don’t give up hope; science and technology in this department are rapidly advancing.
Of course the flip side of this coin is recognizing that the child has the rare opportunity of being part of two different cultures. The deaf culture is definitely a culture all its own, and they that have deafness defend it with pride. Because the child with one hearing ear is also part of the hearing world, he/she can step back and forth making friends in both worlds. As long as the child is able to speak and receives adequate therapy to hear with his/her monaural hearing, then the child can succeed in either culture.
It is hard, as a parent, to make choices for your child with unilateral hearing loss/deafness. What choices you make about a BTE, cochlear implant, or no assistive hearing device at all might not be the one the child would make later on in life. It’s always best to go with the least extreme choice until your child can decide for himself/herself.