The question of binaural (two ears) amplification comes up in just about every audiology practice in the world - every day! It's an excellent question.
You were born with two ears because you need two ears, the same is true for your eyes, arms, legs and kidneys. Like two legs, two wings and two eyes, nature has equipped the animal kingdom with a balanced pair of ears for reasons very important to their existence. Many species depend on two ears to locate prey, adversaries, even mates and without two ears working evenly; their survival would be in doubt.
The benefits of binaural hearing...
- Contrary to what you may think, one ear working less effectively than the other can have a significant impact on your daily activities. People who have lost hearing in one ear will tell you it is VERY difficult to get by using only one ear. The quality and clarity of sound perceived with one ear is simply not as good as two ears.
- The brain depends on BOTH ears working together to tell the listener where the sound is coming from, how far away the sound is, and to help sort out speech from noise. Additionally, each ear is ''hard wired'' differently to the brain. For example, we know that the right ear is typically the dominant ear for speech sounds and it primarily sends information to the left side of the brain for sound processing and interpretation. Most people think of ''hearing'' as something that happens in the ears, but in reality, the BRAIN interprets the signals from the ears into sound. So, in many respects, we really don't fit the ears with hearing aids, we ultimately fit the brain.
- Hearing with one ear is like trying to see with one eye - it’s possible, but not as effective. That’s why you don’t see people wearing monocles anymore. They became obsolete when eye specialists realised the many important advantages of balanced vision.
- Localisation - correcting this difference can be important to your safety. Balanced hearing is vital to our ability to locate where a sound is coming from. Our brain instinctively locates a sound source by measuring the tiny differences in duration and intensity between each ear. When crossing a street the sound of a car approaching reaches the closer ear slightly before the other ear and at a higher intensity. The brain allowing us to recognise the cars location translates these differences.
- Cut out the noise - one of the nice things about balanced hearing is what you don’t have to hear. Our two ears working together give us the ability to isolate one sound over another; the brain can select a specific sound and concentrate on it. So depending on your hearing loss, you may not have to work as hard to hear effectively in certain areas.
- Relaxing, less stressful hearing - With both ears providing even input of sound, less amplification may be required to achieve a comfortable listening level. The patient needn’t worry about always getting his/her “good ear” turned towards sounds. With all the additional benefits, he/she may actually find balanced hearing to be less stressful; it should certainly sound more natural.
So the bottom line is YES - two ears are better than one.
Of course, there are exceptions, and there are certainly times when professionals recommend fitting only one ear for a variety of reasons. But in general, fitting both ears with amplification provides a better sound quality, better hearing in noise, better hearing of soft sounds, better ability to tell where sounds are coming from, and higher satisfaction with hearing aids.