The concept of matched pairs is a fundamental trait that nature frequently displays in numerous ways. The human anatomy alone presents a number of examples of pairs working together to achieve a greater combined effect. Think: legs, feet, arms, hands, eyes, and …ears. These pairs operate in a complementary manner, and perform their functions in harmony to provide us with capabilities that far exceed those of the individual parts.
Two ears, working in concert, present our brains with a great deal of useful, important information. This is a vital piece of information that audiologists must be adept at communicating to their patients.
When a patient presents a bilateral hearing loss, he or she may question whether two aids are really necessary. There are certainly some important factors to consider when evaluating the pros and cons. With a bilateral hearing loss, most often, aiding only one ear reduces the clarity that may be achieved when aiding both ears. In addition, there are numerous medical and safety factors associated with binaural hearing.
Binaural hearing simply means to hear from both ears. The main reason for a patient to consider hearing aids bilaterally is the overall increased quality of life. When both ears are aided, there is improved speech intelligibility, particularly in noisy situations. In a study of 5,000 patients, conducted by The Better Hearing Institute, it was found that those patients fit with two aids, binaurally, were more satisfied than those with only one aid, monaurally.
With the addition of a second hearing aid, the patient gains another 180 degrees of sound reception, creating 360 degrees of hearing. Achieving a full 360 degrees of hearing creates balance, more natural sound quality, an increased ability to localize, and binaural stimulation of the auditory system. Localization is especially important for safety. Having 360 degree hearing allows the patient to be aware of their surroundings, whether it may be in traffic or while attending board meeting. Binaural auditory stimulation is related to auditory deprivation. Auditory deprivation occurs when the auditory nerve is not stimulated, decreasing the nerve’s ability to receive sound input and speech intelligibility over time.
Another reason why two hearing aids tend to be better than one is its less work! Listening with only one ear is more physically and mentally exhausting than using two ears. Loud or sharp sounds become less offensive because the sound is distributed. When two hearing aids are working in tandem, listening in noisy situations and loud sounds aren’t as intense because two hearing aids require less power than one aid. Binaural input has also been shown to reduce the perceptibility of tinnitus in 50% of patients.
There are countless reasons why binaural hearing is important to the overall quality of life for the patient. The advantage of employing two aids increases sound quality, functionality, and potential for the user and their technology. Whatever you may be doing, when you want to perform at your peak, it just makes good sense to obtain the maximum amount of information from your surroundings.
Kochkin, Sergei, Ph.D. (2014). “The Binaural Advantage”. The Better Hearing Institute. Washington D.C. http://www.betterhearing.org/hearingpedia/hearing-aids/binaural-advantage