Should You Tell People That You are Deaf in One Ear?

by JoHarrington

Unilateral hearing can result in some excruciatingly awkward social situations. A heart-breaking search query has led to this article.

Many social settings, which the hearing take for granted, can lead to an awkward situation for a deaf person.

People agonize over how to tell people you are deaf; and how to explain to people what it's like to be deaf in one ear.

But there's one realm where these questions become even more keen: love.

'Should you tell your boyfriend that you're deaf?' and 'Will a guy care if he found out I'm deaf in one ear?' These are both genuine queries that have found this article in the past. What would you answer?

The Issue with Single-Sided Hearing

The major one here is that you're not always deaf, at least from the point of view of the people around you.

With any other kind of hearing impairment, the rules are simple: 

The profoundly deaf can't hear a thing. You communicate with them via sign language, lip reading or visual media like texts. 

Those suffering partial hearing loss in either or both ears are affected by volume. If it all gets too loud, then they can't hear you.  You turn it down (or up, if you want them to hear that) and everyone's happy.  They might even have hearing aids, which makes this a void point.

Then you get unilateral hearing.  Could it be more complicated?

If it's one on one, with no background sound, I am not deaf.  If it's one on one with different sounds (say conversation over music), I am not deaf.  If there are competing sounds of the same type, I am deaf.

The rules change; and so do the ways in which communication with me is possible.

You need two working ears to achieve depth of sound.  It's not about volume.  It's about layers of audible stimuli. I cannot distinguish your voice from the voice on the television. Both merge in one humungous blob. I cannot tell what either of you are saying, if two of you are talking at the same time.

What I am hearing is disorientating and can be a little bit painful.  It gives me a headache and makes me have to deal psychologically too.  I can either disappear into my own world (usual tactic), or really, really concentrate through all of that, if I want to participate. 

That involves lip-reading and watching body language for clues, while my mind is being assaulted with white noise. It's exhausting, frustrating and can lead to me eventually tiring into becoming ratty.

Discover More About My Unilateral Hearing World

Alarms in your house warn of anything from a fire to a burglary. But what if the only person there is hearing impaired?
Unilateral hearing affects a significant percentage of the population. How would you welcome a client or guest with this kind of deafness?

Three Examples of Awkward Situations Due to Being Deaf in One Ear

These real life scenarios all actually happened to me during the past fortnight.

It was a classic case of the rules changing. 

A couple of days previously, I had sat in this very same public house with four friends. The lounge was deserted but for ourselves, and everyone waited their turn to talk. The conversation buzzed unabated all night and nobody knew that I was partially deaf.

But now it was Friday night and we were in the bar. A smattering of farmers sipping a well earned pint suddenly turned into a busy room. I was lip-reading with my head filled with disorientating white noise. It was hard work.

I finally mentioned this to my hosts. They had vaguely known that I did have a hearing impairment, but we'd never been in a situation where it came to the fore. They realized now and, after some discussion, grasped the reality of my discomfort.

As two people who pride themselves on their hospitality, I could see that this was embarrassing for them. That made it embarrassing for me. We left after we'd finished our drinks, with me feeling like I'd ruined their evening.


Fast forward a week to my auntie's front room.  Recently widowed, she's taken to leaving the television on at all times. It's the dreaded background noise, which so many stereo hearing people seem unable (and unwilling) to do without.

It's not that my auntie doesn't know about my deafness. She used to routinely switch the radio off, when I walked through the door.  But the television stayed on, even after we and my mother were installed on the settees, cradling our cups of tea.

While the conversation ensued between my auntie and my mother, I drifted away inside my own head. I admired the new decor of the flat and vaguely pondered Wizzley articles.  Then all eyes were upon me. I'd patently been asked a question.

I wasn't looking. I wasn't ready.  I asked for it to be repeated again.  Now my mother spoke up, asking for the television to be switched off.  My auntie complied immediately, frowning as she did so. Whether at her own lack of awareness or the request itself, I didn't know.

"Why can't you get a hearing aid?" She demanded suddenly.  Ah! The latter then.

"Because it wouldn't do any good.  My cochlear is rotten."

The whole conversation then turned to my deafness. Sharp focus upon it.  I had the sense that this was all somehow my fault. In the realm of the normal, I was being wantonly and deliberately abnormal. 

I was glad when they switched to discussing how to arrange the garden.


One day later, my car has been in for its MOT and the mechanic has delivered it back to my front door.  He's trying to tell me something.  I think he said that my car has dangerous levels of emissions, which is horrifying to an old hippy like me.

Behind us, the television is blaring.  I gasp a question about fixing it at the mechanic, who looks confused. Frustration gets the better of me and I snatch up the television's remote control and switch the blasted thing off.

All around the room are the raised eyebrows of people wishing to watch the tennis at Wimbledon. The mechanic grimaces too.  Tension is rife in the air.  I'm a little too sharp as I ask, "What's causing my car to have high emissions?  Can it be fixed?"

He tells me, now probably for the third time, that there's been a change in the law requiring them to test emissions. Mine passed with flying colors. It was on zero percent.

The mechanic seemed like he couldn't wait to leave.  My father pressed for me to just pay him the money, so he could get on.  Unspoken was the utter censure in everyone's body language. I had caused a scene.

Three scenarios here.  All very real; all very possible.  This is the reality for someone deaf in one ear bringing that to the attention of the rest of the world.  It's worth bearing in mind, when you ponder the query that I found in my analytics. It had led somebody to one of my Wizzley pages.

I've been deaf in one ear since I was nine years old. The most frustrating thing about that is other people. Grab an Angry Deaf badge to defend against the audists in your life.
Nobody wants to put a damper on the Christmas celebrations. Let an Angry Deaf Christmas tree decoration gently say it instead!
Let Deaf Bunny help your partially deaf child socialize while out playing. Informative clothing to articulate the hearing needs of deaf kids unable to explain for themselves.

Books about Self-Esteem and Deafness

You are wonderful and you are beautiful. Send anyone who thinks otherwise to me. But if you still don't believe me, these books might help.

A Heart-Breaking Search Query about Partial Deafness

This actually did turn up in my content analysis. Someone typed this in and found my Wizzley page because of it.

I love a boy, but I'm partially deaf. Should I tell him about it?

There it was, in the list of terms which people have entered in order to find my articles. It led them to Talking to Somebody Who is Deaf in One Ear.

I hope that it helped them. Obviously not as information to answer their question, because that person would have already known this stuff.

But he or she could have used it like I do, which is as a link to give to people who want to know more about how I hear the world.  (And how to make life easier for me.)

So what is the answer to the question?  My instinct is to scream aloud - tell him!  If he's worth your love, then this won't matter at all.  He'll learn how to afford leeway and make your environment happier in all ways.

If you're planning to be with him forever, then he'll have to know.  Sooner rather than later, as he might wonder why you never told him before.

But then I pause and think. I ponder the heart-breaking reality of being desperately in love and wanting everything in your favor. You can spend hours in front of a mirror trying to look your best. You can practice your lines and your laughter. Anything to give yourself the edge over his other potential love interests.

Partial deafness lands in the middle of that like a stone stuck in your shoe. Awkward situations are all too common. He might not want the hassle and that's an automatic rejection.

On balance, I still think that (s)he should tell him.  The person asking does not deserve less than full consideration and understanding. And if he doesn't respond appropriately, then he misses out on what could have been the great love of his life.

Should He Find Out About the Deafness?

Your turn to give some advice to the person asking the question. You already know mine.
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Yes, because...
Guest on 02/23/2014

If he doesn't know, he can't help you when you get into difficult situations, and may even cause one himself.

Mae on 07/31/2012

Yes. I mean, I can't speak for you but for someone who is also deaf in one ear and has told many people at various points, it doesn't really matter. They won't think of you differently. Not one person I have ever told treats me any different, except one friend who makes jokes sometimes but I've gotten her to stop. It'd be easier for himt to know because he can avoid making you uncomfortable by putting you in a situation where you can't hear him.

terry on 07/13/2012

I have been wearing hearing aids for over 20 years now. I have always found it better to tell people about my hearing, and I have found that people are understanding of it. For about 15 years I was unable to wear a hearing aid in my left ear (80% hearing lost) because of an enlarged opening that made it so a hearing aid couldn't fit. I found that after telling people if they wanted me to hear them they should be in front or to my right they had no problems doing so. Last year I received a BAHA implant on my left side and no longer have to worry about this. In fact it works so well that I no longer wear my hearing aid on my right side (75% hearing loss). This has cut down on a lot of middle and inner ear problems.

Kate on 07/10/2012

Yes tell him... He might be desperate to share something that's concerning him one day and you will have laid the foundation of trust. Good luck

Lucas on 07/09/2012

Definitely a yes, I don't see how/why the boy would treat the one-sided deafness as an obstacle in their relationship. And it may save them from future misunderstandings of "why are you ignoring me all the time?" if the guy wasn't aware of the problem.. It could even help in the relationship if the guy would actually accept it as a fact and *maybe* learn sign languages or adapt to her disability for them to communicate easily rather than push it aside (if she didn't mention it till later on)

Ragtimelil on 07/08/2012

Better tell him. It's bound to come up. I'm not only partially deaf but have tinnitus. My dad had a cochlear implant some years ago and runs seminars to educate people, especially law enforcement, about deafness. Nothing worse than a cop yelling "freeze" and the guy can't hear him.

Kayla on 07/08/2012

For me I would definitely tell the person. No matter how old, or any other circumstance. If you like a person and want to be with them then you need to be honest and who knows what could happen. Sure it could be bad, but if they dont accept it than they aren't worth your time as a person and you will slowly but surely move on. If they do accept you than great! It will probably just add to their list of things they already adore about you and something that sets you apart from everyone else out there.

Mr FANG on 07/08/2012

Of course you should tell him. I highly HIGHLY suggest befriending him first and easing into things, especially at younger ages (you didn't list how old you are :P). Most people are afraid of the word "love" until there's at least a shadow of a mutual feeling, and if you aren't even his friend yet and you're dropping L-bombs, you take away your chance and he runs away and shuns you forever.

My advice, find a mutual interest, and start talking. Do you guys have a class together? Social hangout? Anything, really. Make an effort to look good one day and just start talking to him with the intention of giving him your phone number at the end of the conversation, but because "you have to go and you enjoyed talking to him". Don't force things in the conversation, and just relax! He's probably thinking about how cute you are and is kinda nervous himself :).

After that though, it's all on you to go from there. Guys like a challenge, so try hard to get (mixed signals), but I can't GameFAQ's this guy to be your boyfriend. Good luck :)

Freya on 07/07/2012

I'd say yes, It's part of who you are. In the early stages of a relationship it's all about getting to know the other person and what makes them tick. You don't have to make a big deal of it, just drop it into the conversation if he's doing something silly like trying to talk to you when you aren't looking at him.
You never know it may spark loads of new questions and conversations out of it and then he can learn a little bit more about you.

katiem2 on 07/07/2012

I meant would he or wouldn't he! Sorry for the typo :)K

Deaf Accessories and Books on eBay

Grab yourself a bargain, if one comes up that you fancy!

More Articles about Unilateral Hearing on Wizzley

They are amongst some of the biggest names in entertainment, politics or the news, and these celebrities are deaf in one ear. Find out who they are and how it happened.
They are household names, and they are also deaf in one ear. Can you name these famous SSD people without being told?
Unilateral hearing affects a significant percentage of the population. How would you welcome a client or guest with this kind of deafness?
Alarms in your house warn of anything from a fire to a burglary. But what if the only person there is hearing impaired?
Updated: 07/11/2014, JoHarrington
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JoHarrington on 09/09/2012

Actually writing these articles is such a boon. I just show them to one or more of the people I'm with, let them read, then see the room suddenly become deaf friendly!

The person who taught me sign language is completely deaf, so is her husband and two sons. She was telling me that at school (which was a deaf school) the kids HAVE to use hearing aids. Soon as they graduated, her son and his whole school year went onto a nearby bridge and ritually threw their hearing aids away into the river.

So yes, I should imagine that they can be more trouble than they're worth! I'll never know. They wouldn't do me a bit of good, so I've never had one.

Mira on 09/09/2012

I imagine they should be able to regenerate those cells in a few years' time. I think David Lodge in Deaf Sentence said something to that effect, too. I can't believe though that people who understand what unilateral hearing involves make it hard for you, as in your story with your aunt and the television. But never mind that now, people are strange, as The Doors say. I'm glad you wrote this series of articles. David Lodge's predicament was hearing loss, which comes with a whole arrays of issues (some of them having to do with the way hearing aids sometimes cause more problems than they relieve), all of them different than what you describe. Good to know how things work. I imagine part of the problem when socializing is telling all this info in one scoop to the person(s) you're talking with. It's best to know about it beforehand, so thanks for this series of articles!

JoHarrington on 07/13/2012

JShea - No, I can tell louder or quieter, but not coming towards me or going away. Obviously if I can see the, say, car in the street, I know what's going on. Finding it is usually a matter of luck or deduction though!

Terry - I didn't know that you could do that! LOL Nice trick! That's definitely the best of both worlds there.

terry on 07/13/2012

The nice thing with my implant is that if I want I can take it out and dive into the nice quiet blanket. It would be weird for me not being able to control the volume of things around me. Its a nice way to take a nap in a busy airport.

JSheaForrest on 07/13/2012

I have stereo hearing but monovision, due to an uncorrected lazy eye. I suppose that trying to explain stereo hearing to someone deaf in one ear is like trying to explain 3D vision to someone like me. Without the second sense receiver, the sensual information is flat. With it, you get a fuller picture -- with sound, the picture of direction and movement of the sound. With vision, you get a better picture of depth and distance. But you should still be able to tell, somewhat, the direction of sound -- whether it's coming toward you or away from you -- just as I can tell, somewhat, how far away something is from me.

JoHarrington on 07/13/2012

It's the direction of sound thing that fascinates me most. My (stereo hearing) friend once stood behind me at a Roger Waters's concert. She wrapped her arms around my waist, so that she was positioned to speak a running commentary into my left ear.

She kept telling me precisely where the sound was now. Sometimes it was over there; sometimes over here. I think I got it then, but still only in imagination. It was quite a bizarre experience!

I'm glad that you've got new interests in life. I'm not convinced that I want stereo hearing though. You'd have to give up the peace and quiet part of it, because I imagine that stereo is ridiculously noisy.

terry on 07/13/2012

The best way that I can tell you is its like walking around all day with an eye patch on so you get used to no depth then removing it. Before music and movies sounded flat, you probably under stand how that is but people that have there hearing cant grasp that idea. Now I find myself looking to where the sound comes from. It can be a problem when I'm playing music that keeps switching from right to left, my wife tells me that my eyes go back and forth like the old 50's black cat clock. I hope that someday you find something that can help you because it really opens new things up. For the first time I am looking to go to a play with my wife, I think I'm going to surprise her with tickets to one soon. I avoided them before because I wouldn't of been able to hear half of what is going on.

JoHarrington on 07/13/2012

What does it sound like? I've had hearing people try to describe stereo to me, but it just seems fantastical. You're in the unique position of knowing what music sounds like both to the partially deaf and the hearing. I'd love to know!

Thank you very much for your comment. I'm glad to hear that your implant improved your life so well.

Terry on 07/13/2012

I have had a "fun" run with being hard of hearing. I started wearing my hearing aids in the 1st grade and things got worse as time went on. After several more surgeries I was no longer able to wear my left hearing aid. My middle ear is a big problem but I am lucky in that my cochlear is in good working order. Because of that I was able to get a BAHA implant last year and its improved my life a lot. My wife says she can tell a difference on how I interact with people in noisy areas. The biggest change for me is how I hear music, Its been a huge difference and I only wish I would of known about this 15 years ago when I had to sop wearing my hearing aid.

JoHarrington on 07/08/2012

By the way, you should write about your partial deafness too! It's slightly different to mine, so it'll be a whole new tale that the good folk of Wizzley haven't heard yet!

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