It is common to experience fatigue after listening to someone speak or listening to music for a long period of time. You may have experienced this after a long work meeting, concert, or evening out with friends. This is referred to as listening fatigue which occurs as a result of listening to speech and/or sounds for an extended amount of time. Listening fatigue is a signal from the brain that it needs a break from the constant absorption and processing of sound.
Though this is normal, listening fatigue can be especially challenging for people with hearing loss. Hearing loss requires people to exert more effort and energy to process sound which can lead to fatigue more easily. Understanding how this happens and ways you can navigate listening fatigue can best support your hearing health and wellness.
Understanding How We Hear
To get a better sense of how hearing loss can cause fatigue, it is important to understand how the auditory system – the sensory system for hearing – works. The process of hearing involves the ears and brain which work together to absorb and analyze sound. This includes:
- Outer ear: consists of the most visible part of the ear which absorbs sound from the environment. Soundwaves then travel through the ear canal and land on the eardrum.
- Middle ear: movement of the eardrum causes the ossicles – three tiny connected bones – in the middle ear to further propel soundwaves into the inner ear.
- Inner ear: thousands of hair cells in the inner ear help translate incoming soundwaves into electrical signals that then get carried to the brain.
Once the brain receives these signals, it further processes them and assigns meaning which is what allows us to understand what we hear.
How Hearing Loss Causes Fatigue
Hearing loss typically occurs as a result of hair cells in the inner ear being damaged. This prevents them from effectively converting soundwaves into electrical signals for the brain. This then forces the brain to work harder to try and process incoming information. There are specific parts of the brain that help process auditory information which plays a key role in how we hear. This includes:
- Temporal lobe: sits behind the ears and processes auditory information it receives from the inner ear.
- Wernicke’s area: this part of the brain is also responsible for speech comprehension.
- Broca’s area: another portion of the brain, the Broca’s area is located in the frontal lobe and is responsible for language comprehension as well as speech production.
When hearing loss is present and remains untreated, these areas of the brain work much harder in trying to hear and process incoming information. This extra energy and effort that is exerted in order to compensate for hearing loss, leads to greater listening fatigue.
Tips to Alleviate Listening Fatigue
For people with hearing loss, coping with listening fatigue can be exhausting. There are a few strategies you can practice to alleviate listening fatigue including the following:
- Reduce background noise: eliminating or reducing background noise creates less sound for your brain to process and filter through. Background noise can be distracting and contribute to cognitive overload.
- Take listening breaks: the ears and brain are constantly absorbing and processing sound, taking a break gives your auditory system time and space to rest and replenish.
- Wear hearing protection: hearing protection – earplugs, headphones, earbuds etc. – offer the ears a protective barrier that reduces the amount of loud noise you absorb, reducing your overall noise exposure.
- Take a nap: taking a 30-minute nap can not only boost your energy but also provide you and your auditory system with some quiet time.
In addition to these tips, be sure to have your hearing assessed regularly. This establishes a baseline for your hearing needs and makes it easier to track any changes you may experience. This also helps ensure that your hearing needs are always being met. Treating hearing loss effectively can help alleviate listening fatigue by providing ample support with process sound. Regularly seeing your hearing healthcare provider involves having your hearing aids checked to assess that they are always working optimally. Contact us today to learn more about protecting your hearing health and reducing listening fatigue.