People with hearing loss in both ears sometimes ask if they can get by with just one hearing aid instead of two. There is a reason why we have two ears, and it’s called “the Cocktail Party Effect.” We’ve all been in a cocktail party: lots of people talking, usually music playing fairly loudly and each person there is trying to focus on the conversation of one or two others. Interestingly, being able to hear in a cocktail party, or any noisy situation, requires two things to be working in each of us.
First, we have to be able to hear high-frequencies in both of our ears. High-frequency tones are what give us location, allowing us to locate the source of a sound we want to hear. In the case of a cocktail party, our conversation partners.
Second, there is a function in our left brain that uses those high frequency tones to focus on the voices we want to hear, while graciously ignoring the rest of the voices and other background noises.
If either of these two things are not working correctly, the result is a blur of sound, with no way to follow the conversation we want to hear.
Hearing aids in both ears is the answer. Amplifying those high-frequency sounds allows our brain to triangulate the source of the voices we want to hear and zero in on them, making it possible to follow a conversation. Testing this out is easy. Just plug one ear with your finger and see how easy it is to locate a sound, or follow a conversation in a noising place.
It is no accident that we have two ears, just as it’s no accident that we have two eyes. Yet, no one questions why we have two eyes, because what our eyes do for us is visually apparent. But sound is invisible, so it’s no wonder we don’t appreciate how hard our hearing works to help us function in complex hearing situations.
So, the old saying is true, “two ears are better than one.”