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Hearing Loss in One Ear Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions

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Last updated June 13, 2022

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Understand your hearing loss in one ear symptoms, including 9 causes and common questions.

8 most common causes

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Ménière's Disease
Brain Tumor
Ear Infection
Bell's Palsy
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Cholesteatoma
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Earwax Blockage
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Burst ear drum
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Glue ear (otitis media with effusion)

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8 causes of hearing loss in one ear

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced hearing loss in one ear. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Possible meniere's disease

Meniere's disease is a disorder of the inner ear that affects balance and hearing.

Meniere's disease is due to an abnormality in the inner ear that results in low levels of fluid, thus interfering with the sense of balance. The abnormality may be hereditary or it could be from allergies, autoimmune disease, or other illness.

Symptoms usually affect only one ear and include severe attacks of vertigo, or the sensation of spinning; tinnitus, or ringing in the ear; pressure inside the ear; and increasing deafness. These symptoms are unpredictable and can come and go without warning.

Meniere's disease is progressive and will not go away on its own. It can lead to a severe loss of hearing and balance, and so a medical provider should be seen at the earliest symptoms.

Diagnosis is made through patient history; physical examination; hearing tests; and balance tests.

There is no cure for Meniere's disease, but it can be treated with motion sickness and anti-nausea medicines, hearing aids, and occasionally surgery.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: nausea, episodic dizziness, ringing in the ears, vertigo (extreme dizziness), ear fullness/pressure

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Middle ear infection

Middle ear infection, also called acute otitis media, is a bacterial or viral infection of the air-filled space behind the eardrum. An ear infection is usually secondary to a cold, allergy, or influenza.

Young children are most susceptible due to weaker immune systems and to the small size and shape of the Eustachian tubes in the ears. Children in group care settings are more exposed to colds and flu and therefore more prone to ear infections.

Symptoms include ear pain due to inflammation; drainage of fluid from the ear; and sometimes hearing difficulty. Children may cry, run a fever, and pull at the affected ear.

If symptoms last more than a day, a medical provider should be seen. Long-lasting or repeated ear infections can lead to hearing damage and to speech and learning problems.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination.

Middle ear infections often clear up on their own and antibiotics may only be needed for infants and severe cases. Warm compresses and over-the-counter pain relievers can be used. Do not give aspirin to children.

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Glue ear (otitis media with effusion)

Glue ear is caused by fluid built up in the middle ear (under the eardrum). It happens more frequently in kids than adults because of having frequent colds and less developed tubes in the ear. In adults, it's caused by acute or chronic sinusitis in 66 percent of cases. It may also be caused by cigarette smoke, allergies, reflux, genetics, or bacteria, all of which stimulate the production of the fluid.

90 percent of cases resolve without treatment in 6 months. If you do go to the doctor, he/she would take a look in the ear to confirm the diagnosis. Adults can request vasoconstrictor nose sprays (Neo-Synephrine or Afrin), but that can't be used long term. Flonase can also be prescribed. Follow up with a doctor if things don't get better in 1 week!

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: ear fullness/pressure, constant hearing loss, hearing loss in one ear, trouble hearing that is better in noisy environments, ear canal pain

Symptoms that always occur with glue ear (otitis media with effusion): ear fullness/pressure, hearing loss in one ear, constant hearing loss

Symptoms that never occur with glue ear (otitis media with effusion): ear canal pain, fever

Urgency: Wait and watch

Earwax blockage

Ear wax production is a normal process, as the body makes wax to protect the ear from infection. Sometimes ear wax can build up and cover the eardrum, which is a thin layer of skin that stretches across the end of the ear canal and picks up sound from outside. Ear wax buildup has nothing to do with poor hygiene, and it is not possible to prevent a build-up by washing.

You should go to a retail clinic to be treated. You should NOT try removing the wax with cotton swabs, because you run the risk of pushing the ear wax further into the ear canal, and potentially damaging the ear canal or eardrum. A variety of ear drops exist that can be bought at the pharmacy, such as Debrox, Murine, and Cerumenex. You may also use other remedies such as mineral oil, baby oil, or glycerin ear drops instead of brand-name drops.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: dizziness, dry cough, ear canal pain, ear fullness/pressure, ringing in the ears

Symptoms that never occur with earwax blockage: swollen ear, fever

Urgency: Phone call or in-person visit

Cholesteatoma (a non-cancerous growth in the ear)

Cholesteatoma is a type of skin growth located in the ear, behind the eardrum. While it can be present from birth, it is usually caused by an ear infection. Symptoms include dizziness, hearing loss and pressure in the affected ear, and discharge from the affected ear.

You should consider visiting a medical professional in the next week or two to discuss your symptoms. Cholesteatoma can be evaluated with a review of your symptoms and an ear exam. Imaging such as a CT scan may be performed to rule out other conditions. Once diagnosed, it can be treated with ear cleaning, antibiotics, and eardrops. Surgery to remove the growth may be needed in some cases.

Burst ear drum

The ear drum is a thin membrane that vibrates as sound hits it, transmitting that vibration into signals that the brain understands! When it bursts, your hearing is affected. It typically happens after some force to the ear drum, such as a blow to the ear, an exploding firecracker, a fall onto water, or even a sharp object in the ear.

You should go to an urgent care center immediately. There, a doctor can confirm the diagnosis by looking in the ear. Further, he/she can clean out any debris and put in a protective cotton plug. Treatment involves keeping the ear dry to heal along with antibiotic ear drops (ofloxacin 5mL, 2-5 drops) if the ear is contaminated with dirty water or objects. You will then be referred to an otolaryngologist who will follow your recovery.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: ear canal pain, constant ear pain, ringing in the ears, vertigo (extreme dizziness), hearing loss

Symptoms that always occur with burst ear drum: ear canal pain, recent ear injury, constant ear pain

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Brain tumor or mass

In medical terms, "mass" and "tumor" mean the same thing: the unexplained, out-of-place growth of tissue anywhere in the body, including the brain.

The cause of any sort of brain tumor is unknown. Some originate in the brain, while others spread from cancers growing in other parts of the body.

Symptoms may include increasing headaches; nausea and vomiting; blurred or double vision; loss of sensation in an arm or leg; loss of balance; confusion; speech difficulties; or seizures.

If symptoms persist, it is important to see a medical provider so that any treatment can begin as soon as possible.

Diagnosis is made through neurological examination, CT scan, and/or MRI.

If the mass or tumor is found to be benign, that means it is not cancer and not harmful. It may or may not be treated.

If it is malignant, that means it is cancer and must be treated. This will involve some combination of surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy, followed by specialized therapy to help with recovery.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: fatigue, headache, nausea, loss of appetite, irritability

Symptoms that always occur with brain tumor or mass: focal neurological symptoms

Urgency: In-person visit

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Bell's palsy

Bell's palsy can present as acute or chronic facial paralysis. This paralysis is usually sudden in onset and worsens over the course of 48 hours. Resolution of symptoms usually occurs within two weeks to six months but permanent paralysis can rarely occur. Symptoms of this condition are a result of the paralysis of facial muscles. This paralysis usually occurs only on one side of the face. The cause of Bell’s palsy is inflammation or damage to the facial nerve, also known as cranial nerve VII. This nerve controls the muscles of the face. Treatment is aimed at reducing inflammation or targeting the underlying cause of facial nerve paralysis.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: arm weakness, facial numbness, arm weakness, hearing loss, pain on one side of the face

Symptoms that always occur with bell's palsy: face weakness, weakness in one side of the face

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Age-related hearing loss

More than 2.2M adults over the age of 70 have age-related hearing loss. It is caused by a buildup of Hearing loss has been attributed to loneliness, declining activity, and lower quality of life for seniors.

You should go see your doctor in the next few weeks for a hearing test. Diagnosis is made based on those results, and treatment with a hearing aid can greatly improve your quality of life.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: possible hearing loss, increased difficulty with speech due to hearing loss, hearing loss that is worse in noisy environments

Symptoms that always occur with age-related hearing loss: possible hearing loss

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Questions your doctor may ask about hearing loss in one ear

  • Have you been experiencing dizziness?
  • Do you hear a ringing or whistling sound no one else hears?
  • Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Has your hearing loss been confirmed by a test?

Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.

Hearing loss in one ear symptom checker statistics

People who have experienced hearing loss in one ear have also experienced:

  • 7% Ringing In The Ears
  • 7% Pain In One Ear Canal
  • 7% Ear Fullness/Pressure

People who have experienced hearing loss in one ear were most often matched with:

  • 60% Possible Meniere'S Disease
  • 40% Earwax Blockage

People who have experienced hearing loss in one ear had symptoms persist for:

  • 36% Less than a day
  • 25% Over a month
  • 22% Less than a week

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from Buoy Assistant.

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Dr. Rothschild has been a faculty member at Brigham and Women’s Hospital where he is an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He currently practices as a hospitalist at Newton Wellesley Hospital. In 1978, Dr. Rothschild received his MD at the Medical College of Wisconsin and trained in internal medicine followed by a fellowship in critical care medicine. He also received an MP...
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