Man Tired from listening on zoom

If you find yourself reaching for that additional cup of coffee mid-day, there could be more to it than just being physically tired.

Suppose you have been more tired than usual recently and have hearing loss. In that case, the two may be correlated, especially if you are mentally fatigued after listening to someone speak.

The reason lies in listening fatigue, which is a normal response to hearing sounds for extended periods. Zoom calls, work meetings, training, and seminars can cause your brain to “need a breather.”

However, for those that suffer from hearing loss, the added challenge of hearing loss means that fatigue sets in sooner, along with fewer stimuli than those with normal hearing. Studies have shown recurring or increasing episodes of listening fatigue as an early hearing loss symptom.

What causes listening fatigue

A person with normal hearing is less likely to encounter this type of fatigue because their auditory system functions the way it should, and the brain processes the information with less effort. In contrast, when hearing loss is prevalent, the brain has to compensate for the loss and works harder to process the same information, causing more stress on the brain and resulting in fatigue.

Within the ears are tiny hair cells that convert soundwaves into electrical signals that the brain interprets as sound. Each of these cells is responsible for a specific frequency; the frequencies are lost once the cells become damaged or destroyed. The brain must work additionally hard to make sense of sounds with only the remaining sensory cells.

Dr. Cleaning patients' ear

Parts of the brain that process sound

Three areas of our brain connect to the auditor system to help interpret sound and produce speech:

  1. Temporal Lobe: Manages hearing.
  2. Broca’s Area: Speech Production.
  3. Wernicke’s Area: Speech comprehension.

These brain areas function in perfect unison for a person with normal hearing, making communication seem effortless. But, when hearing loss is involved, the brain must work, concentrate, and think harder than it would with normal hearing. This partnership becomes disrupted, increasing communication challenges and leading to listening fatigue..

How better hearing can help

The Hearing Loss Association of America reported that roughly 48 million Americans have some degree of hearing loss. In addition to listening fatigue, when hearing loss is left untreated, you run the risk of developing other neurological disorders such as dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, social isolation and depression, and anxiety.

Hearing aids can support exhaustion

Depending upon the level of hearing loss, hearing aids or cochlear implants can improve listening and speech understanding and effectively reduce listening fatigue.

A 2011 Vanderbilt University study tested 16 adults between the ages of 47 and 69 with mild to severe sensorineural hearing loss to see what impact hearing aids would have on listening exertion and mental fatigue. The participants’ word recall, recognition, and visual reaction time were tested with and without hearing aids.

Results indicated that participants recognized greater word recall, and their reaction times were remarkably faster with hearing aids than without.

Audiologist consulting patient on new hearing aids

Managing listening fatigue

Even for those with normal hearing, intense listening can be exhausting. Below are a few recommendations for managing listening fatigue throughout the day, regardless of whether you have normal hearing or hearing loss:

    • Take a break from the noise. If you don’t wear hearing aids, consider taking a walk in a quiet area or finding a place to close your eyes and relax for a few minutes.
    • Practice deep breathing. When you feel overwhelmed, stressed, or frustrated, do some deep breathing exercises for a few minutes. The practice will help clear your mind while lowering stress and blood pressure.
    • Eliminate background noise whenever possible. People with hearing loss often have problems differentiating speech from background noise. The less background noise your ears and brain have to process, the less demanding it is to tune into the conversation giving you more energy.
    • Take a nap. Even a brief 20-30 minute nap can improve your attentiveness and performance without leaving you sluggish or impeding your nighttime sleep.

If you’re not hearing as well as you used to and believe you are experiencing listening fatigue. Take time to have your hearing assessed by a qualified hearing healthcare professional.

Salem Audiology Clinic will help you find the best hearing health solutions for your individual, lifestyle, and budget. Hearing aids can help you communicate and hear clearer and might help you approach life with more energy.