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Understanding Diplacusis

It’s not uncommon for our ears to hear sounds at different pitches. Usually, the difference is so imperceptible the brain distinguishes it as one. Yet one hearing disorder causes some ears to hear sounds so differently it creates a two-sound experience called diplacusis.

There are several kinds of diplacusis:

  • Diplacusis binauralis occurs when you hear the same sound differently in each ear.
  • Diplacusis echoica is when you hear the same sound repeated as an echo in the affected ear.
  • Diplacusis dysharmonica happens when the sound is perceived normally in one ear and at a different pitch to the other.
  • Diplacusis monauralis occurs when one ear hears the same sound as two different sounds.

Hearing health professionals believe diplacusis occurs when one ear develops more hearing loss than the other. For some, it means they’ve sustained damage to their inner ear and developed sensorineural hearing loss, which is permanent. This damage can be the result of prolonged exposure to a noisy environment (also known as noise-induced hearing loss or NIHL), trauma to the head, toxic medications, or other health condition that negatively affects hearing.

For others, it may mean they have conductive hearing loss caused by an ear infection, clogged sinuses, large amount of ear wax, or other obstruction in their ear canal. In these situations, diplacusis is temporary and typically dissipates once the infection clears up or the obstruction is removed.

Those who develop diplacusis usually notice it suddenly after exposure to a loud noise, a bout with an ear infection or trauma to the head. As you can imagine, musicians notice this condition more readily than the average individual as their ears are more sensitive to pitch and tone. In addition to double hearing, individuals with diplacusis may also develop tinnitus, a ringing or buzzing noise, in the affected ear.

If you notice any of the symptoms described in this article, make an appointment to see your family physician or hearing health professional. They can examine your ears to correctly diagnose the problem and recommend the best course of treatment. If the diplacusis is related to conductive hearing loss, your physician may recommend medications or surgery to remove the obstruction and return your hearing to normal. If the diplacusis is a result of sensorineural hearing loss, your physician may refer you to a hearing health center for evaluation. Many individuals who develop sensorineural-related diplacusus benefit by wearing a hearing aid in the affected ear.

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