muffled hearing in one ear causing man to hold head with hand
muffled hearing in one ear causing man to hold head with hand

I Have Muffled Hearing in One Ear

Your ear feels clogged and muffled, which is making it difficult to hear and is just plain uncomfortable. What now? And how serious is muffled hearing in one ear?

First, don’t panic—you’re not alone. 

Unilateral hearing loss, or hearing loss in one ear, can happen to anyone, at any age. It can be temporary or permanent and can range from mild to severe. Regardless of the cause or severity, hearing loss in one ear can be frustrating and isolating, making it difficult to detect where sounds are coming from, hear and understand speech and tune out background noise.

In this article, we'll discuss the causes and treatment options for when you can’t hear out of one ear, as well as ways to reduce your risk of getting sudden loss of hearing in one ear.

What Is Hearing Loss in One Ear?

Hearing loss doesn’t always happen equally in both ears. Hearing loss in one ear, called unilateral hearing loss, occurs when one ear has hearing loss, but the other ear can hear normally. This type of hearing loss can range from mild to profound; if the loss is severe enough, it may mean the person is deaf in one ear. In these cases, it is sometimes called single-sided deafness (SSD).

Both children and adults can experience loss of hearing in one ear, which sometimes manifests as your ear feeling clogged and muffled or feeling like you can’t hear out of one ear. Sometimes it’s temporary and can be treated to restore normal hearing. Other times, the hearing loss can be permanent.

While one ear can hear normally with unilateral hearing loss, our bodies were designed to hear with both ears. Our ears constantly communicate with one another as they absorb sounds from the environment. People experiencing muffled hearing in one ear may find it difficult to:

  • Detect where a sound is coming from (sound localization)
  • Hear and understand speech—especially in crowded, noisy environments
  • Hear clearly (the sound may be muffled, and the volume diminished)
  • Tune out background noises

What Causes Unilateral Hearing Loss or Muffled Hearing in One Ear?

Many possible causes exist for these conditions, especially if the onset is sudden. Some of the most common causes include:

  • Illness/Infection
  • Ear blockage
  • Exposure to loud noise
  • Exposure to certain drugs
  • Traumatic brain injury or head trauma

If you start to experience muffled hearing in one ear or hearing loss in one ear, or if your ear feels clogged and muffled on one side, you should immediately have your hearing checked by a physician or hearing care professional.

Depending on the cause, treatment options when you can't hear out of one ear may include:

  • Antibiotics (for ear infections)
  • Removing impacted ear wax (or foreign object stuck in ear)
  • Surgery (to repair a perforated eardrum)
  • Hearing aids

Can a Hearing Aid Help?

Single-sided hearing loss can sometimes be treated with hearing aids. If simply amplifying sound in the affected ear isn’t possible (such as with single-sided deafness), hearing aids with CROS/BiCROS (CROS means Contralateral Routing of Signal) can help.

What does CROS/BiCROS do? When sounds and speech are detected by the ear with untreatable hearing loss, they can be transmitted wirelessly to the better ear. This wireless transmission allows you to hear better in a variety of situations, such as talking on the phone, conversing in a group setting or walking side by side with someone.

Treatment Options for Single-Sided Deafness

For people with mild-to-moderate hearing loss, a hearing aid may be all that's needed to amplify the sounds you're not hearing.

Severe to profound single-sided deafness is often permanent, but sometimes treatable with devices worn on your functioning ear. Your hearing care professional will perform a hearing test and ask you questions to identify the cause of your hearing loss.

Is There a Way to Reduce My Risk of Getting Sudden Loss of Hearing in One Ear?

Here are some tips for protecting your hearing health:

  • Eat a healthy diet rich in vitamins and minerals
  • Protect your ears from loud noises
  • Avoid cleaning ears with cotton swabs
  • Have your hearing checked regularly
  • Stay on top of preventive health checkups 

Hearing loss in one ear can be frustrating, but there are solutions available to help. Seeking professional attention as soon as possible can help you get the treatment you need to improve your hearing and quality of life. Whether you need antibiotics, surgery or a hearing aid, there are options available to help you hear better.

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