In July 2019, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved cochlear implantation in people with single-sided deafness or asymmetrical hearing impairment. Before that, only people with bilateral hearing loss (meaning hearing loss in both ears) were eligible. That left out people who had “one good ear” but were still struggling to hear and communicate. This increases the risk for social isolation and depression in adults, and delayed language and speech development in children. Duke audiologist Alexa Hornik, AuD, believes the expanded criteria are an important step for people with hearing loss on one side.
“When you have only one hearing ear, it’s fine in quiet situations. But when you get into a noisy room, or in more dynamic listening situations, or you are trying to tell where sound is coming from, you physically cannot do that with just one hearing ear,” Hornik said.
Many people with hearing loss experience tinnitus in their bad ear, which can also be debilitating. Research shows that cochlear implantation can reduce or eliminate tinnitus, which is another bump to quality of life.
“This population has been underserved in terms of what we could provide them,” Hornik said. “There are devices that transmit sound from the bad ear over to the good ear. And that’s useful for some people, but it can still be quite limiting. Truly being able to restore hearing to both ears and giving full stereo sound quality to more people is very, very exciting.”