According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, optimal hearing quality can only be achieved through the use of both ears. Called binaural hearing, it helps us identify the source of a sound and also provides a balanced, natural sound quality. Here are six reasons why hearing health in both ears is essential, and why most hearing-impaired people should use two hearing aids.
1) Better Overall Sound Quality
Hearing with two good ears can provide up to 10 decibels of increased value in sound quality. This doesn’t just refer to loudness, but also to improved quality of tone and texture in the sounds you hear.
2) Moderation of Background Noise
A person’s brain relies on receiving information from both ears in order to make sense of his or her surroundings. When sounds are received through both sides of the head, the brain uses the two sources of stimuli to compare and determine the relevance of each sound to the listener. This is especially important when you are listening to speech in, for example, a busy restaurant. By comparing sound signals, your brain helps you focus on what’s being said by the person sitting across from you, rather than on the clatter of dishes coming from the kitchen or the conversation from a nearby table.
3) Better Localization
Localization refers to the ability to identify where a sound is coming from. Interestingly, when someone speaks, it’s important to know their location relative to your own, as this helps your brain better understand the content of the speech. If you have poor hearing in one ear, you may not be able to respond appropriately if someone approaches you from that side of your body.
4) Better Clarity
Two good ears ensure that the volume of normal sound is relatively equal on both sides of your head. With only one good ear (or only one hearing aid), an individual may have difficulty understanding subtle speech or nonverbal exclamations. In studies where hearing-impaired people were tested with either one hearing aid or two, there was a 5 percent increase in the understanding of speech when two hearing aids were used (Mencher 2006).
5) Reduces Tinnitus
Hearing-impaired people who have tinnitus — a constant ringing sound in the ears — have found that wearing two hearing aids reduces or even eliminates this unpleasant condition, while wearing only one hearing aid does not.
6) Prevents Auditory Deprivation
Auditory deprivation takes place over time when an ear with hearing loss is not assisted by a hearing aid. While the ability to hear pure sound tones is not affected, an unaided ear tends to lose the ability to discriminate speech if it goes a long time without hearing well.
Regrettably, some people resist wearing a hearing aid when they believe they have hearing loss in only one ear. Though impairment may be noticeable on only one side, without a hearing test administered by a qualified audiologist, you can’t be certain that the condition is localized. It may very well be that there is loss in both ears, but that loss is at a more severe level on one side than the other. Even if a person finds that only one ear is affected, it’s important to understand that it is not a good idea to rely on one’s so-called “good” ear. With the technology and medical knowledge available today, nearly all of us have the opportunity to hear well through two good ears.