Hearing Loss and Listening Fatigue

Hearing Loss and Listening Fatigue

In Fatigue, Hearing Health, Hearing Loss by Paula Castanon

Paula Castanon

Caring for your mental health can mean a lot of things. Perhaps we seldom think of how our mental health and hearing health are connected, but they are indeed. A busy work schedule and an active social life can have your brain feeling exhausted at the end of some days. If you feel more exhausted than normal, especially if you are in good health otherwise, you may want to have your hearing checked. You could be suffering from listening fatigue, a condition caused by the brain’s increased effort to listen and interpret and is often a result of untreated hearing loss.

Your Brain’s Role in Your Hearing

The brain plays a vital role in our hearing ability and is integral to comprehension and speech. The inner ear has hair cells that are responsible for converting the noise gathered by the outer ear into electrical signals, which travel along an auditory nerve to the brain. Every one of the hair cells is responsible for converting a pitch or frequency. They are also irreparable if they become damaged or die, so the brain must work harder to process information it is receiving due to the loss of that function. Hearing aids can prevent the mental fatigue that comes with untreated hearing loss.

When you have normal hearing, three areas of the brain that interpret sound and speech are working together:

  • The temporal lobe—This is located behind your ears, extending to both sides of the brain. The primary auditory cortex, which receives sensory information from the inner ear, is located here
  • Wernicke’s Area—This is located in the left side of the brain in the temporal lobe and is responsible for speech comprehension.
  • Broca’s Area—This is located in the lower part of the left frontal lobe and is responsible for speech production.

Disabling hearing loss causes the brain to work harder to decipher the information it receives from the inner ear, which, in turn, can be mentally exhausting.

Hearing Aids Can Help

The brain plays a major role in hearing and comprehension so when it has to work harder to transcribe information it can cause mental fatigue and lead to things like migraines or physical exhaustion. Hearing aids can help by filtering and focusing sound into the ear canal to be sent to the brain by way of the cochlear nerve. Hearing loss has a connection to listening fatigue and depression, social isolation, balance, and anxiety. Yet, many people choose not get their hearing checked for fear of needing a hearing aid and the social stigma associated with it.

A 2011 study at Vanderbilt University tested 16 adults with mild to severe sensorineural hearing loss, ages 47-69, to see how hearing aids would affect listening effort and mental fatigue. Researchers tested word recognition, word recall, and visual reaction time with and without hearing aids. The study found that participants had better word recall, and that their reaction times were noticeably faster with hearing aids than without.

Coping with Listening Fatigue

People with or without a hearing loss can experience listening fatigue. Here are some tips for dealing with listening fatigue from day to day, for people with hearing loss and normal hearing people alike:

  • Practice Deep Breathing

Focusing on your breath is always a great way to regain focus, calm anxious nerves, and clear your mind. Deep breathing can also reduce stress and blood pressure.

  • Eliminate Environmental Noise

Whenever possible try to eliminate unnecessary background noise. It is often difficult for people with hearing loss to discern environmental noise from speech. When your brain and ears have to process less information, the risk for listening fatigue lessens.

  • Quiet Time

Take a break from the noise throughout the day. If you wear hearing aids, take them out for a few minutes each day. If you do not wear hearing aids, enjoy a quiet walk in nature or find a spot to close your eyes and rest for ten minutes. Finding quiet places to have your lunch or reading a book instead of watching a screen can also give your brain a listening break.

All Ear Doctors

If you think you have a hearing loss and are beginning to experience fatigue throughout the day, contact us at All Ear Doctors for a hearing exam. For the sake of your mental and hearing health, schedule a hearing exam and do not ignore listening fatigue. We look forward to hearing from you!