Why two hearing devices are typically better than one?

Written by Liz Tusler Meyer, Au.D. 

This is a question we get from our patients regularly.  If you are new to treating your hearing, why start with two devices rather than one?  Why should I invest in a second device?

You have two ears for the same reason you have two eyes.  If you corrected your vision in one eye, you would have difficulty with depth perception and a distorted picture of the world around you.  One eye becomes dominant.  Not only would the non-treated eye become weaker, but the area of the brain which handles that eye would become less active.  Similarly, if you were to lose some of your hearing and not treat it, you would have difficulty localizing sound.  Having a hearing system fit to two ears will transmit sound waves to the brain to interpret.  Our brain needs information from both ears to transform sound into an audible image of the world around us.

It is most common to have hearing loss in both ears.  Here are research findings to support the use of two hearing aids versus one.

  • Better hearing in groups or noisy situations – the ability to hear and understand speech (speech intelligibility) is improved when two ears are sending information to the brain.
  • Better sound quality – when both ears are listening you hear in stereo at 360 degrees. Sounds are brighter, and fuller.  With only one ear listening, its 180 degrees of uneven sound.
  • Turn down the volume – Having two ears working generally requires less volume. Turning up the volume to high levels creates distortion.
  • Hearing a fuller range – Hearing with two ears versus one has also shown to increase the distance you are able to hear. According to research done by the Better Hearing Institute, with two ears you can hear as far as 40 feet! With one ear, 10 feet is the typical distance.
  • Better speech understanding – By using two hearing devices, selective listening is more easily achieved. Selective listening is the ability to focus on the speech you want to listen to and distance yourself from the background noise.
  • Better speech identification – It is easier for the brain to differentiate between noise and speech when both ears are treated.
  • Hearing is less tiring and more enjoyable – Research has shown that hearing aid users who have two devices are typically more satisfied than those with one.  This level of satisfaction is derived from the fact that they have better sound quality and do not have to strain during conversations.
  • Less brain deterioration – When hearing loss is not treated, the brain loses its ability to hear and understand. There is a link between hearing loss and early onset dementia, but that is whole other possible blog post!
  • Ringing in the ears – A large proportion of the population (>10% of the population) suffers from tinnitus. Over 60% of those who have tinnitus report an improvement when wearing properly fit hearing aids. If a person with tinnitus wears a hearing aid in one ear, there is both an in-balance in hearing ability and the continued sensation of ringing.

As you can see, there are many reasons why treating both ears is better than just one.  If you would like more information, please contact us at Info@AudiologyIllinois.com and we would be happy to answer your questions.