Head of Customer Content Experience
Audiology Expert & Founder
Hearing loss can affect one or both ears and in many cases, individuals experience bilateral hearing loss, meaning hearing impairment in both ears. When it comes to managing hearing loss, using hearing aids for both ears can provide significant benefits.
This article explores the advantages of binaural hearing aids, which are designed to be worn in both ears. By understanding the advantages of binaural amplification, individuals with bilateral hearing loss can make informed decisions about their hearing health.
You might have started the process of getting your hearing checked and with that comes an array of questions about how to go about it. You might even be wondering "Do I really need two hearing aids?" and you wouldn't be the only one, as this is a popular query at Hearing Aid UK.
If you are considering hearing aids but are uncertain as to whether or not you need two then this information may be of use. The vast majority of people with hearing loss suffer from impairment in both ears. Having hearing loss in one ear only is quite rare and usually requires a medical referral.
When someone is being referred to me by a GP - I am assuming that the person has a hearing loss in both ears. This is generally because most people have hearing loss in both ears - even more so if the hearing loss is age-related.
When choosing spectacles, nobody in their right mind would tell their optician to put the plain glass on one side so why question a hearing aid audiologist? One reason may be the cost involved. An average hearing aid costs around £1000 and having two aids doubles this cost.
Historically the NHS used to provide one hearing aid to most people unless their hearing loss was more severe. The public’s perception was therefore that only people with particularly bad hearing need two hearing aids. Gladly this is no longer the case, and most patients are now fitted with two hearing aids with the NHS service.
Wearing two hearing aids is far better for you than one hearing aid. We would always advise wearing two hearing aids, as you will simply hear better if you do. A hearing loss in both ears is called bilateral hearing and because we only have one brain it is also easier for the brain to distinguish and process sound signals from both ears.
Apart from the obvious need for amplification to each impaired ear and solid research into the matter, there are several other significant reasons why two hearing aids are better than one – assuming the person has hearing loss in both ears.
There are also a handful of exceptions to wearing two hearing aids, which you can read further down the page. But let's start with some of the facts that indicate that two hearing aids are better than one.
The brain recognises information from both ears, then compares and contrasts them. Analysing the minuscule time delays as well as the difference in the loudness of each sound reaching the ears enables the person to accurately locate a sound source.
Being able to accurately locate the direction of a sound is very useful in everyday life in a whole host of situations. Perhaps a scarier disadvantage of poor localisation is safety when crossing a road.
"Binaural summation” means that the hearing aids can be set at a lower volume setting than wearing one hearing aid. None of your hearing aids will need to be turned up as high as you would have to if you were to only wear one. This means you might only need smaller hearing aid models, due to not requiring as much power and you can also conserve your battery power at the same time.
If you’re only hearing on one side and someone tries to speak to you on your “bad side” then it’s quite impractical and perhaps embarrassing to try to turn your head 180 degrees.
The brain has its built-in noise reduction which is much more effective when it is receiving information from both ears. Essentially, background noise, which is the scourge of the hearing aid wearer is exacerbated by wearing only one hearing instrument.
In our experience, when you wear two hearing aids, both ears pick up the sound and get the stimulation needed to continue optimum performance. The biggest comparison between one and two hearing aids is distinguishing words. In short, it is highly possible to experience a reduction in word recognition when you wear just one hearing aid.
You may also find that you can hear speech with only one hearing aid, but the chances are it won't be clear. However, when you wear two hearing aids you can gain from clear conversation and sound understanding. Stereo sound is better than mono so why would anyone want to compromise on such an important sense?
There are other benefits to binaural hearing, but these are the main ones. If your hearing aid audiologist has recommended two hearing aids, then they have done so for good reason. Don’t think they’re just trying to make a double sale - it's not a con!
When hearing loss affects both ears, individuals often strain to listen, which can lead to increased listening effort and fatigue. Binaural hearing aids alleviate this strain by providing a more comprehensive soundscape, reducing the cognitive load associated with hearing loss.
With both ears receiving amplified sound, individuals can focus on understanding speech and engaging in conversations more effortlessly. This reduction in listening effort can lead to less mental fatigue and improved overall communication abilities.
And here is a common exception. Is there any circumstance where you might need hearing aids for one ear only? There have been some cases when people who are suffering from cognitive decline have still benefited from just wearing one hearing aid. This is also relevant when the person in mention has hearing loss in both ears. It is believed that this is due to the brain being too stimulated.
Choosing to use hearing aids for both ears brings numerous benefits, including improved speech understanding, enhanced sound quality, reduced listening effort, preservation of auditory processing, and a more balanced sound perception.
If you think you might have hearing loss in one (single-sided hearing) or both ears and wondering whether you need hearing aids in both ears contact us free on 0800 567 7621 for a phone consultation, support, and advice going forward.
Read Next: Best hearing aids
Do not spend hundreds of pounds without getting a second opinion from us.
If you are looking at this page then it is likely that an audiologist has suggested that you purchase this particular hearing aid, so is this the best model for you?
In general, any audiologist will always be recommending to you the model that best suits your needs. Here is a useful check list to make sure that is the case.
If in doubt, feel free to give us a call. That's what we're here for.
If you have a significant hearing loss in both ears, you should be wearing two hearing aids. Here are the audiological reasons why:
Localisation. The brain decodes information from both ears and compares and contrasts them. By analysing the miniscule time delays as well as the difference in loudness of each sound reaching the ears, the person is able to accurately locate a sound source. Simply put, if you have better hearing on one side than the other, you can't accurately tell what direction sounds are coming from.
Less amplification required. A phenomena known as “binaural summation” means that the hearing aids can be set at a lower and more natural volume setting than than if you wore only one hearing aid.
Head shadow effect. High frequencies, the part of your hearing that gives clarity and meaning to speech sounds, cannot bend around your head. Only low frequencies can. Therefore if someone is talking on your unaided side you are likely to hear that they are speaking, but be unable to tell what they have said.
Noise reduction. The brain has it’s own built in noise reduction which is only really effective when it is receiving information from both ears. If only one ear is aided, even with the best hearing aid in the world, it will be difficult for you to hear in background noise as your brain is trying to retain all of the sounds (including background noise) rather than filtering it out.
Sound quality. We are designed to hear in stereo. Only hearing from one side sounds a lot less natural to us.
For most people, the main benefit of a rechargeable hearing aid is simple convenience. We are used to plugging in our phones and other devices overnight for them to charge up.
For anybody with poor dexterity or issues with their fingers, having a rechargeable aid makes a huge difference as normal hearing aid batteries are quite small and some people find them fiddly to change.
One downside is that if you forget to charge your hearing aid, then it is a problem that can't be instantly fixed. For most a 30 minute charge will get you at least two or three hours of hearing, but if you are the type of person who is likely to forget to plug them in regularly then you're probably better off with standard batteries.
Rechargeable aids are also a little bit bigger and are only available in behind the ear models.
Finally, just like with a mobile phone, the amount of charge you get on day one is not going to be the same as you get a few years down the line. Be sure to ask what the policy is with the manufacturer warranty when it comes to replacing the battery.
For most people, the answer is yes. But it's never that simple.
The majority of hearing problems affect the high frequencies a lot more than the low ones. Therefore open fitting hearing aids sound a lot more natural and ones that block your ears up can make your own voice sound like you are talking with your head in a bucket. Therefore in-ear aids tend to be less natural.
However the true answer is we can't tell until we have had a look in your ears to assess the size of your ear canal, and until we have tested your hearing to see which frequencies are being affected.
People with wider ear canals tend to have more flexibility, also there are open fitting modular CIC hearing aids now that do not block your ears.
There is also the age old rule to consider, that a hearing aid will not help you if it's sat in the drawer gathering dust. If the only hearing aid you would be happy wearing is one that people can't see, then that's what you should get.
Most people can adapt to any type of hearing aid, as long as they know what to expect. Have an honest conversation with your audiologist as to what your needs are.
Generally speaking, six or more. Unless it's none at all.
The number of channels a hearing aid has is often a simplistic way an audiologist will use to explain why one hearing aid is better than another, but channels are complex and it is really not that straightforward.
Hearing aids amplify sounds of different frequencies by different amounts. Most people have lost more high frequencies than low and therefore need more amplification in the high frequencies. The range of sounds you hear are split into frequency bands or channels and the hearing aids are set to provide the right amount of hearing at each frequency level.
Less than six channels and this cannot be done with much accuracy, so six is the magic number. However, a six channel aid is typically very basic with few other features and is suitable only for hearing a single speaker in a quiet room. The number of channels is not what you should be looking at, it's more the rest of the technology that comes with them.
As a final note, different manufacturers have different approaches. One method is not necessarily better than any other. For example some manufacturers have as many as 64 channels in their top aids. Most tend to have between 17 and 20. One manufacturer has no channels at all.
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