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  • Writer's pictureTerri Gilmore

Why Do I Need Two Hearing Aids? Isn’t One Good Enough?

Do You Know Anyone Who Wears A Monocle?

Do you know anyone who wears a monocle?  It would be surprising if you did.  Just like we see better with two eyes, we hear better with 2 ears. We have 2 ears for a reason, several reasons, actually, some of which are as follows:

We Need Both Ears To Localize Sound

To be able to hear where sound is coming from, we need balanced hearing from two ears.  All mammals, including humans, use localization for basic needs, such as avoiding danger.For instance, when we step out into a street and hear a car approaching, our ears tell us from which direction the car is coming from.  The sound of the approaching car reaches the ear which is closer to the car slightly faster than the other ear. The very small time difference between the two ears tells the brain the exact location of the car, a potentially life saving ability.  With both ears you can locate sounds not only horizontally, but also vertically, 360 degrees in all directions.

Stereo Sound

Stereo listening gives depth perception.  Anyone who has enjoyed music in stereo, compared to mono, knows the difference.  Mono makes sounds seem shallow, flat, and unnatural.  Your brain has the ability to hear in stereo, but to do so requires that sound be delivered to both ears.  Not only are sounds more natural, but they can be understood more clearly.

Cushions Loud Sounds

Sudden loud sounds lose much of their jarring effect when divided between two ears.

Hear Better With Less Volume Gain

If you have hearing loss in both ears, and you wear only one hearing aid, you will turn up the volume more on one side.  If you turn the volume up, you will pick up more distracting background noise.  You will have to concentrate more, which can be physically tiring and stressful.  A voice barely heard at 10 feet with one ear can be heard up to 40 feet or more with two ears (ie., one plus one equals more than two!).

Good Manners

Good manners take two ears.  One-eared listeners may be considered rude because they tend to ignore the speaker on their unaided side.  Hearing equally from both sides means that you will be capable of responding accurately and confidently whether the conversation comes from the right side or the left side.

Understanding More In Noisy Places

We have a brain function called the “squelch effect”, in which the brain can filter out some background noise.  This effect is only possible with equal hearing from both ears.

Both Ears Stay Active

Our brains only interpret the louder of two sounds so, when a person with hearing loss in both ears wears a hearing aid in only one ear, the brain does not process the softer sounds in the unaided ear.  Over time, this unused ear will begin to lose its ability to understand speech clearly because the pathway to the brain hasn’t been utilized.A person with a hearing loss in both ears that just wears one hearing aid or a person that only has a hearing loss in one ear but decides not to wear a hearing aid because their other ear is normal, is prone to this “use it or lose it’ rule.This may not seem like a big issue until you consider what would happen if the “good ear” began having problems and the other ear was thrust into the role of being the dominant ear.  This ear may no longer be able to accurately interpret sound and speech because of its many years of underutilization.

There is a possibility that the brain can retrain itself and speech understanding could improve over time, but this depends on factors such as the patient’s age and the number of years of auditory deprivation.

Auditory Intelligence

Give your brain what it needs for auditory intelligence.  The two halves of your brain work in harmony to give you an auditory image.  Just as your brain converts the two images from your two eyes to see a single picture, the same happens with your ears.  It is the different signal each ear sends to the brain that makes this perception possible.  The ears’ sound signals travel up the brain stem via complicated pathways.  Some cross over and eventually stimulate the same side.  These complex patterns of stimulation make up auditory intelligence.If the two halves aren’t sharing their signals, auditory intelligence is reduced.  Two hearing aids are not recommended for all patients.  When the recommendation is made, however, it is based on the above reasons and the patient’s specific communication needs.  It is never too late to get benefit from two hearing aids.  It may require an adjustment period, but the benefits make the effort well worth the time.

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