If you have hearing loss, you could be more likely to experience fatigue. You may already be familiar with listening fatigue which describes feeling especially tired or exhausted after listening to speech and sound for an extended amount of time. It can be common to experience this after long meetings, phone conversations, listening to music or a podcast etc. Listening fatigue is a way that the brain communicates needing a break from absorbing and processing sound – a process it is always engaged in.
Hearing loss already forces the brain to work harder in trying to process sound signals. So listening fatigue can be particularly challenging if you have impaired hearing. But there are effective ways you can alleviate listening fatigue. Practicing a few strategies can provide you with greater support and energy throughout your day.
Understanding How We Hear
To understand the link between hearing loss and fatigue, it is useful to know more about how we hear. The auditory system is the sensory system for hearing and it includes the ears and brain which work together to absorb and process speech as well as sound. This process involves the following:
- Outer ear: the outer portion of the ear absorbs soundwaves from the environment which travel down the ear canal and land on the eardrum.
- Middle ear: activity with the eardrum activates the ossicles – three connected bones – which help push soundwaves further into the inner ear.
- Inner ear: sensory cells in the cochlea receive and convert soundwaves into electrical signals which get carried to the brain.
Specific portions of the brain – temporal lobe, broca’s area, and wernicke’s area – process sound signals which include assigning meaning to them, allowing us to understand what we hear. Hearing loss occurs when this process is disrupted, producing a range of symptoms including fatigue.
Link Between Hearing Loss & Fatigue
There are a few ways that hearing loss contributes to fatigue. Hearing loss most often occurs when sensory cells in the inner ear are damaged. Several factors can cause this including exposure to loud noise, aging, existing medical conditions, and head injuries. When sensory cells are damaged, their capacity to process incoming soundwaves effectively is impacted. This results in the brain receiving less auditory information which can cause:
- Brain atrophy: the portions of the brain that process auditory information can shrink as a result of receiving less signals from the inner ear. These areas become less active and can experience a loss of neurons and restructuring of neural networks as a result.
- Cognitive overload: the brain is forced to work harder to locate and process sound signals. Other parts of the brain can step in to compensate which overworks the brain. This can lead to cognitive overload.
This impact on the brain makes it tougher to hear. The brain exerts more energy to hear and this is what can produce fatigue, especially after long periods of exposure to speech.
Tips to Alleviate Listening Fatigue
Listening fatigue can be unpleasant to deal with. It can contribute to tiredness, difficulty concentrating, and even social withdrawal. There are strategies you can practice to alleviate listening fatigue and support your wellness including:
- Take listening breaks: take 5-10 minute listening breaks throughout the day to give your ears and brain a break from constantly absorbing and processing sound.
- Minimize background noise: background noise creates additional sound to have to process and filter through which can contribute to fatigue much quicker. Minimize background noise by powering off any noisy appliances that are not in use, turning off the TV or music if you are not watching or listening, avoiding places with excessive background noise and opting for quieter spaces etc.
- Reduce exposure to noise: another useful strategy is to reduce your exposure to loud noise. You can do this by avoiding places during peak hours, taking alternate routes to avoid construction sites, wearing hearing protection like headphones or earplugs which reduce the amount of loud noise you absorb, maintaining low volume settings on electronic devices etc.
- Take a nap: taking a short nap can help you wake feeling energized and fresh.
Contact us to learn more about how you can alleviate fatigue and prioritize your hearing health and wellness.