Hearing Loss & Fatigue

Hearing Loss & Fatigue

Olga Lis, MS, CCC-A
Latest posts by Olga Lis, MS, CCC-A (see all)

Feeling tired can seem like an inevitable result of a busy, active life. And at times, fatigue is the healthy outcome of external demands. It tells us when we need a break. For some people, particularly introverts, social interactions alone may result in a feeling of overextension. However, hearing loss can also be the sneaky cause of increased fatigue and tired-ness because of increased labor in social interactions.

Why we feel listening fatigue

When hearing loss appears, it usually takes a more subtle route before making a larger impact in our lives. This slow onset is what makes hearing loss so difficult to self-diagnose, particularly in its early stages. We might first have difficulty making out a word here and there, only to find that understanding or comprehension of what others are saying becomes increasingly difficult. This is because as the fine cells of the inner ear are damaged, the cells that are responsible for receiving intricate sound information, we often lose our high frequency sounds first. Instead of an overall lowering of volume, early hearing loss feels a bit like we are just missing pieces of the sentence, rather than the whole sentence itself. The result is that we listen “harder” in order to locate the missing bits. That can be physically and emotionally exhausting in itself.

The role of the brain in hearing

And, while the ears get all the glory for our sense of hearing, it’s actually our brain that does quite a lot of the heavy lifting. Once the sound information reaches those sensitive inner ear cells, it’s transmitted to the brain via the auditory nerve. In the brain, sound information is processed into language and comprehension. Imagine the frustration and effort of putting together a thousand word puzzle and hours later realizing that you have been working without a quarter of the pieces. This is what it might feel like to try and process conversations around you while living with hearing loss. Your brain is straining to piece together an important puzzle, and yet, it does not have all of the pieces it needs to do so. 

Increased frequency or heightened fatigue

Take note if listening fatigue is appearing more frequently in your life or if you are experiencing fatigue in a much more dramatic way. Perhaps previous experiences of listening fatigue were only happening once in a blue moon after a long, boring work meeting. But, these appearances of fatigue are now noticeable after just a brief conversation with a neighbor or coworker. 

You might have been able to vanquish the drowsiness or feelings of exhaustion with a brisk walk or a glass of ice water and some moments of silence. Now, listening fatigue can knock you out for an extended period of time. If these signs are creeping into your listening life, and if collaborating symptoms are also showing up, you might want to schedule a hearing test to rule out hearing loss. Other symptoms of hearing loss might include difficulty understanding words those around you are saying, having folks repeat themselves often, or noticing that the volume levels of your devices are close to maxing out. 

Ways to cope with listening fatigue 

It is possible to alleviate the effects of listening fatigue. Once you have determined that it is playing a role in your loss of energy, you can take steps to mitigate its power. When scheduling meetings or activities, try to aim for earlier in the day, when fatigue has had less of a chance to impact your ability to focus. After meetings and prolonged social interactions, schedule yourself a block of time for recovery. You might start with a full thirty minutes and gradually increase or decrease until you find your sweet spot. 

Recovery should include silence. Your brain has been working extra hard to actively listen and giving your ears and those exhausted processing centers some time off is a compassionate action. Take a walk if moving your body tends to help you fight fatigue. You might also take a quick nap. Afternoon naps not exceeding twenty minutes have been proven to restore energy and focus. A healthy snack to refuel your body can counteract listening fatigue. 

You know best what makes your body feel rested and restored, so try out one of the above suggestions or go right to what you know serves you best.

Hearing aids can reduce fatigue

Treating hearing loss with hearing aids is a proven way to ease the burden of hearing throughout your day when hearing loss is present. Hearing aids can help to restore some of that listening information that has become lost, so the brain gets back a few of its missing puzzle pieces. 

Schedule a hearing test today

The best way to fight fatigue as a result of hearing loss is to get the most information on the situation you are currently dealing with. If hearing loss does play a role in your listening fatigue, our audiologists will help you to designate your next steps and work together to find your best possible hearing solution.