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Hearing Aids/unilateral hearing loss


Is it customary to tell a patient who has just been identifed with a severe hearing loss in one ear that they have a "dead ear" and that nothing can be done to help them? (This happened to my relative who was deeply shocked and offended)

Dear Naomi,

The delivery of this type of diagnosis should be handled with appropriate sensitivity and accurate information.  Making the statement of a "dead ear" is not a proper diagnosis, but rather the loss should be classified by degree of severity (mild, moderate, severe, profound) and type (sensorineural, conductive, mixed).  Alternatively, when a severe to profound hearing loss exists in only one ear (unilateral), then this may also be referred to as "single sided deafness."

That being said, it is rare that an ear has absolutely no function, as there is usually some level of "residual" hearing.  This is indicated in the limited information you gave me in that it is "severe" and not "profound."  When sounds are presented at a loud enough level, they can be detected.  The real question at hand is how "aid-able" is the loss and what options are available.  This should be discussed with an audiologist (not sure who delivered the information--hearing aid specialist, ENT, audiologist, etc).  If this information was given by an audiologist, I would suggest a second opinion.  Determining whether the ear can be directly aided is based largely on speech understanding in that ear, tolerance to amplification, etc.  In uncertain cases, a trial may be warranted to help determine perceived and measurable benefit.  Increased sound awareness and safety is a benefit, even if speech understanding in that ear alone is not great.

Even in the worst-case scenario where that ear is not aid-able directly (by hearing aid), other options exist to help.  Something called a CROS hearing aid can be worn to pick up sound from the side of loss and sent to a device worn in the "good" ear.  A Baha, which communicates with the "good" ear from the side of loss through a bone-anchored implant, is also an option.

I am sorry that your relative was poorly counseled and I hope the information I have given is helpful.

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Dr. Clint D. Keifer, Audiologist


I am qualified to answer all questions related to the diagnosis and rehabilitative treatment of hearing and balance disorders. This includes evaluation of hearing and balance, counseling, amplification (hearing aids and assistive devices), tinnitus (noises in head) evaluation and management, cochlear implants, and audiology in general.


I started my career as a hearing instrument specialist (on a trainee license) in 1998. After almost 2 years, I decided that I needed to pursue higher education if I was to provide the best care to hearing impaired patients that I could. In 2007, I completed my Doctor of Audiology and have been providing audiological care for over 5 years. I have vestibular, cochlear implant, and pediatric experience along with prescribing, fitting, and verification of hearing aid amplification as part of comprehensive hearing loss rehabilitation.

Audiology doctor and owner at Great Lakes Audiology in Toledo, OH. phone: 419 327-2273 website: American Academy of Audiology, American Speech-Language Hearing Association, Ohio Academy of Audiology

Bachelor of Science (B.S.), Western Michigan University, Speech Pathology and Audiology Doctor of Audiology (Au.D.), Ohio State University Certificate of Clinical Competence in Audiology (CCC-A)

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