Preventing Listening Fatigue with Hearing Loss

Dr. Maria Wynens, Au.D.Hearing Loss

Dr. Maria Wynens, Au.D.
Latest posts by Dr. Maria Wynens, Au.D. (see all)

Hearing loss and Listening fatigue

The daily grind of work and social life can take a toll on your well-being, but if you feel more tired than you think you should at the end of your day, you might consider scheduling a hearing evaluation, especially if you’re in good health otherwise. It’s possible that you could be experiencing hearing fatigue, brought on by increased effort to listen and comprehend due to untreated sensorineural hearing loss.

Hearing and the Brain

We may not immediately think about the role of the brain in our hearing ability, but it’s integral to not only hearing, but also 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’s receiving due to the loss of that function.

When hearing is functioning normally, three areas of the brain work in harmony with the auditory system to decipher sound and generate speech:
  • The temporal lobe is located behind your ears and extends to both sides of the brain. It is involved in processing sensory input into derived meanings for the appropriate retention of, among others, language comprehension.
  • Wernicke’s area, located in the temporal lobe on the left side of the brain, is a region of the brain important for language development and is responsible for speech comprehension.
  • Broca’s area, located in the lower left of the frontal lobe, is related to speech production. When hearing is impaired, the brain has to work harder to fill in missing information. This is the cause of hearing fatigue.

How Hearing Aids Can Help 

Hearing aids or cochlear implants can be quite effective against hearing fatigue by improving listening and speech comprehension, depending on the severity of hearing loss.

Vanderbilt University conducted a 2011 research study that tested 16 adults ages 47-69 with moderate to advanced sensorineural hearing loss to test the effectiveness of hearing aids with regard to listening effort and mental fatigue. Mental fatigue was measured over the period of one hour and examined changes in word recognition, word recall, and visual reaction times, with and without hearing assistance. The study found that when listening was unaided, reaction times worsened over the course of the experiment, consistent with the development of mental fatigue. However, when the participants used hearing aids, no evidence of mental fatigue was found.

How to Cope with Listening Fatigue 

Daily interactions with family, friends, and co-workers can be enjoyable, fun, and satisfyingly productive. They can also be loud and often rife with environmental noise you’re not even aware your brain is working hard to filter out. Here are some tips to minimize listening fatigue:

  • Sound off – Find ways to take a break from the noise around you each day. If you don’t wear hearing aids, go on a peaceful walk, find quiet space, or meditate. Also, reading a book instead of watching television is a great way to turn the sound off.
  • Reduce background noise – Whenever possible, opt for a quieter place to converse, a less-noisy section of your favorite restaurant, even noise-cancelling headphones on a flight. The less noise your brain has to filter through, the better you’ll feel.
  • Wear hearing aids – One function of hearing aids is to fill in the gaps caused by various types of disabling hearing loss. It’s always a good idea to schedule a consultation with a hearing professional if you think you might benefit from a hearing device.

Better hearing health prevents fatigue

A statistic from the Hearing Loss Association of America states that roughly 48 million Americans are living with some degree of hearing loss. Untreated, hearing loss can produce social anxiety and depression and can put you at risk for other health conditions, including dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and depression.

If you have noticed a strain on your hearing but have been unsure what steps to take, consider scheduling an appointment with Atlanta Hearing Doctor today. The advanced features of available hearing aids address many types of disabling hearing loss. Contact Atlanta Hearing Doctor to learn more about options suited to your needs and put your mind at ease.