Hearing Loss

Hearing Loss and Listening Fatigue

Feeling tired or fatigued after listening to sounds for a prolonged period is not unusual. Long conversations or extended Zoom calls can make you feel like you need a break. But for individuals with hearing loss, this fatigue can set in sooner, and be more pronounced.

Below, we will discuss how hearing loss is linked to listening fatigue and ways to manage it.

How Hearing Loss is Connected to Listening Fatigue

Our brains play a critical role in how we hear, speak, and process sounds or other sensory information.

There are tiny hair cells in the inner ear that translate the sounds we hear into electrical signals that get sent along the auditory nerve to the brain.

These hairs are each finely tuned to hear a specific pitch or frequency, and when these hair cells die or are damaged, there are gaps in the information the brain receives. This forces the brain to work harder to process and translate the information.

Areas of the Brain that Process Sound

When hearing is normal, the areas of the brain that work with the auditory system to process sounds and speech are:

  • Temporal Lobe: This part of the brain is located behind the ears and extends around to both sides of the brain. It is the home of the primary auditory cortex. The auditory cortex plays a key role in processing auditory stimuli like pitch. It also helps us to determine where a sound is coming from and what may be producing the sound. This area of the brain is also involved in higher-level processing that helps us recognize aspects of sound that are specific to speech.
  • Wernicke’s Area: this area of the brain is also located in the temporal lobe, typically on the left side of the brain, and helps with comprehension of spoken language.
  • Broca’s Area: Found in the left frontal lobe, this area of the brain is responsible for speech production. A 2015 study from Johns Hopkins University found that the Broca’s Areas works as an intermediary between the information received in the auditory complex and the motor cortex which carries out the movements necessary to speak. Lead author Adeen Flinker explained, “Broca’s area shuts down during the actual delivery of speech, but it may remain active during conversation as part of planning future words and full sentences.”

When hearing loss eliminates or minimizes some of the incoming data, all of these brain processes are forced to work much harder which overworks the brain and while you are trying to hear.

What Can Be Done to Address Listening Fatigue?

In a study conducted in 2011, researchers from Vanderbilt University examined a group of 16 adults, aged 47 to 69, who had varying degrees of sensorineural hearing loss. The study aimed to assess the impact of hearing aids on listening effort and cognitive fatigue. Participants underwent tests measuring word recognition, recall, and visual reaction time both with and without the use of hearing aids. The findings revealed improved word recall and notably quicker reaction times when participants utilized hearing aids compared to when they did not.

Addressing hearing loss when it is first noticed and diagnosed is crucial. Seeing an audiologist and getting appropriately programmed hearing aids can reduce listening fatigue substantially.

In addition to hearing aids, there are a few strategies you can employ to manage listening fatigue during your daily life.

Practice Deep Breathing

Listening fatigue can leave you feeling stressed, frustrated, and overwhelmed. When you experience these emotions, spend a few minutes doing some deep breathing exercises.

Deeply and slowly inhale through your nose, and fully exhale through your mouth. This should help lower your blood pressure, reduce stress, and clear your mind.

Take a Break from the Noise

Sometimes simply giving yourself a break from noise can do the trick. Consider going on a walk or stroll along a quieter street. If that’s not possible, find a quiet place to just sit, close your eyes, and relax for a few minutes.

Even if you’re a working professional, try to find a quiet place to take your lunch. This can give you a little midday energy boost.

If you wear hearing aids, take them out for a few minutes each day to give yourself the chance to rest and recover.

Reduce Background Noise

Background noise can be exhausting, especially for people with hearing loss.

Reducing background noise means there is less noise for your ears and brain to process, helping the brain tune into the conversation and reducing the strain on your energy levels.

Take a Nap

The National Sleep Foundation says that a 20-30 minute nap can improve alertness and performance. A nap break will also give you additional quiet time, giving you a listening break.

Book a Hearing Test at Chicago Hearing Services

If you think you may have hearing loss, it is important to book a hearing test. This test can determine your level of hearing loss and reveal a handful of strategies to help you hear better, potentially reducing your experience of listening fatigue.

Chicago Hearing Services specializes in comprehensive hearing evaluations, supporting each patient in their hearing health journey.

Contact us for more information and book your appointment today!

Dr. Marie Vetter-Toalson Au.D.

Dr. Marie Vetter-Toalson Au.D. is the owner of Chicago Hearing Services and a Doctor of Audiology dedicated to empowering her patients and the public with greater knowledge and education around hearing health.

About Dr. Marie Vetter-Toalson Au.D.

Dr. Marie Vetter-Toalson Au.D. is the owner of Chicago Hearing Services and a Doctor of Audiology dedicated to empowering her patients and the public with greater knowledge and education around hearing health.