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Why Do We Have Two Ears?

Updated: Jan 18

The sound of trees rustling, birds chirping, the layered music of an orchestra, talking to your partner at a restaurant, bargaining in a crowded market, or that annoying noise of the traffic - we need hearing to experience all of that. Soothing or annoying, could we experience any of these sounds the same way if we only had one ear? Is having two ears better than one?


Hearing with two ears is called binaural hearing. Why is binaural hearing important?


Rahul used to startle every time he heard a vehicle honk at him when he was riding his bike. While he was on his way to work, he met with an accident. He hit a car moving in front of him. At the hospital, he complained that he suddenly heard someone honking from the back. Surprised, he turned around to see who had come behind him so suddenly. While he was looking at the vehicle behind him, he had accidentally hit the car in front of him and fallen from his bike. He said, “I didn’t even know there was a vehicle behind me. And when they honked, I didn’t know where that sound was coming from and where I had to turn my vehicle to make way for them. So, I had to look!”


Upon hearing this, the doctor asked Rahul to close his right ear and listen to his speech only through the left ear. Then he asked Rahul to do the same through his left ear. Rahul realized that he couldn’t hear so well through his right ear. The doctor asked him to consult an audiologist. Rahul was diagnosed to have hearing loss in right ear, while his hearing in left ear was near normal.


Ratnakka sells fish at the local market. Her fish are famous across the town for their freshness. So, she typically has to attend to about 6-8 customers at once in her stall. Lately, Ratnakka’s customers are unhappy with her because she keeps getting their orders wrong. Ratnakkka is worried and shares with her friend, “There are so many people talking at once. I don’t know who is saying what! I can’t understand what they are saying at all!” One of her customers being an audiologist, offers to test Ratnakka’s hearing. Ratnakka was found to have hearing loss in both ears, but her left ear was significantly worse than her right ear.


Rahul and Ratnakka have two things in common: they both have hearing loss, and they both suffered from the effects of it.


When you cannot hear through one of the ears, it gets really hard to know where sounds are coming from. It is also very difficult to have a spatial sense of different types of sounds coming from the room, identifying voices, and to understand speech when there is high background noise.

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The brain receives sounds coming in from both ears and integrates the information received. Much like the visual information obtained from both eyes is integrated in the brain to obtain a 3-dimensional scene, the auditory information from both ears is integrated to obtain an auditory scene all around you. This helps in localizing the source of sound, and in analyzing the auditory scene around you. Absence of information from one of the ears, thus, not only affects your hearing abilities in space, but also deprives your brain of information. This can affect your cognitive abilities such as memory, problem solving, attention, etc.

People who have hearing loss in only one ear often say that they don’t need a hearing aid because they can manage well through the other normal ear. People also tend to think that wearing hearing aid in one ear is enough even though the hearing loss is present in both ears. These ideas may seem smart and economical at the time, but have long term deleterious effects such as poorer cognitive health, inattentiveness to environmental sounds and poor localization abilities.


Had Ratnakka worn hearing aid only to one ear, she would still be confused between orders, and her business would have taken a hit. The ear with no hearing aid would probably have deteriorated further, and her aging would only make it worse. She has been living independently in a small town for over 20 years. So, maintaining her overall health as she ages is extremely important for her to live independently. Her sharp memory and attention to detail is not only important for her business but also for her own survival.


It is therefore important to ensure that both your ears are active and healthy for maintaining your overall health and quality of life. It is also important, as seen in Rahul’s case, for your own safety.


In conclusion, using two ears is always better than one. The human body is a beautifully intricate system, with each organ being vital for our survival.


So, remember, one may seem good enough, but two is always better!


 

PS: Make sure your hearing loss is diagnosed by an audiologist with at least a graduate degree (BSc. Speech and hearing or BASLP) to ensure correct diagnosis and effective management.

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