Hearing Loss

Why Can’t I Hear Out of One Ear? Causes and Treatments

Waking up one day and suddenly realizing you can’t hear clearly out of one ear can be a frightening and confusing experience. You most likely are wondering why it’s happening and how serious of a problem it could potentially be. Hearing loss in one ear, called unilateral hearing loss, occurs when one ear is experiencing hearing loss but the other can hear normally. Sometimes it’s temporary and can be easily treated to restore your normal hearing, and other times the loss could be permanent. Below we’ve listed 3 of the more common hearing issues that could be the reason behind your hearing loss, as well as their potential causes.

“I woke up and I can’t hear out of one ear.”

Any sudden loss of your hearing warrants a trip to your doctor or audiologist, but there may be a common cause behind it.

Reasons Why You Can’t Hear Out of One Ear


Earwax, also known as cerumen, helps protect your ears from infection, irritation, and damage. The normal daily movement of your jaw helps move the wax from inside your ear to the outside. When you clean the inside of your ear canal with a cotton swab instead of letting the ears natural self-cleaning process happen, a wax buildup can occur. This, in turn, can lead to an impaction in the ear canal that makes it hard for you to hear with the affected ear. Try applying a few drops of mineral oil, hydrogen peroxide, or glycerin to the ear to soften the wax and clear it out. If that doesn’t improve it, make sure to see your healthcare provider. Other symptoms that can occur from excess earwax or impaction are:

  • Discharge
  • Pain
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • Odor
  • Itchiness
  • A feeling of fullness in the ear

Age-Related Hearing Loss

“My wife’s voice is muffled.”

If soft tones and voices like those of your spouse or grandchildren sound muffled, you may be developing age-related hearing loss. The most common type of sensorineural hearing loss, age-related hearing loss (also called presbycusis) is caused by the natural aging of the auditory system. It tends to occur gradually over time, and initially affects the ability to hear higher-pitched sounds. Some of the symptoms of age-related hearing loss are:

  • Men’s voices are easier to hear than women’s and/or children’s
  • Difficulty distinguishing high pitched sounds, such as the difference between “th” and “s”
  • Some sounds may actually seem too loud and irritating
  • Background noise makes conversations difficult to understand
  • The presence of tinnitus (ringing in the ears) in one or both ears

Airplane Ear

‘I am unable to hear out of one ear on airplanes.”

Airplane Ear, also called barotrauma, is the stress on your eardrum that occurs when the air pressure in your middle ear and the air pressure in the environment are out of balance. As the name suggests, you can experience it when you’re flying, but you also can from sinus allergies, ear infections, and even a simple cold. Some of the symptoms may include:

  • A feeling of fullness or stuffiness in your ears
  • Muffled hearing or slight to moderate hearing loss in one or both ears
  • Moderate pain and discomfort in one or both ears
  • A spinning sensation (also called vertigo)
  • In severe cases, bleeding from the ear

You can help avoid the uncomfortable condition a few different ways:

  • Try using filtered earplugs, which slowly equalize the pressure against your eardrum during the ascents and descents of your flight. You will still need to yawn and swallow to relive pressure though.
  • Use something called the Valsalva maneuver during the takeoff and landing. Gently blow, like when you are blowing your nose in tissue while pinching your nostrils and keeping your mouth closed. You should do this several times, especially during takeoff and landing, to equalize the pressure between your ears and the cabin.
  • Repeatedly yawn and swallow during altitude changes. This helps activate the muscles that open your eustachian tubes. Chewing gum or sucking on candy may help you to keep swallowing.
  • If you have congestion from a cold, use an over the counter nasal spray about 30 minutes before takeoff and landing.
  • If you have allergies, remember to take your medication for about an hour or so before your flight.

We at Otofonix care about you and your health, especially when you suddenly can’t hear from one ear. While we love keeping you informed, it’s important to make an appointment with your healthcare provider or audiologist if you notice new or worsening symptoms.

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