Most people understand the feeling of exhaustion after leaving a long conference room meeting or ending a Zoom call with family. But for people with hearing loss, this feeling of exhaustion, known by audiologists as “listening fatigue,” comes on much more quickly and with much less stimuli than for people with normal hearing.
What Causes Listening Fatigue?
The cause of listening fatigue has to do with the relationship between the brain and the ears.
There are three parts of the brain that help you understand and produce speech:
- The temporal lobe is where the auditory cortex is located, which receives sensory information from the inner ear.
- Wernicke’s area is responsible for speech comprehension.
- Broca’s area is responsible for speech production.
Within the inner ear, there are tiny hair cells called stereocilia that convert soundwaves into electrical energy that is sent to the brain to be interpreted. Each of these cells is responsible for a particular sound frequency. When the cells are damaged by dangerously loud sounds, those frequencies can no longer be heard.
As a result of this loss of hearing, the brain has to work extra hard to fill in the gaps, leading to listening fatigue.
Hearing Aids Can Reduce Listening Fatigue
One study, published in the journal Ear and Hearing in 2013, sought to uncover the effects of hearing aid use on listening effort and mental fatigue in adults who have hearing loss related to damage to the stereocilia (known as sensorineural hearing loss).
For the study, 16 adults with mild to severe hearing loss were assessed for word recognition, word recall and visual reaction times (RTs) both with and without hearing aids.
According to the researchers, “Word recall was better and dual-task RTs were significantly faster in the aided compared with unaided conditions, suggesting a decrease in listening effort when listening aided.”
Other Ways to Reduce Fatigue
While hearing aids can reduce listening fatigue, it’s important to have other tools for dealing with fatigue. When feeling worn out, we suggest:
- Taking breaks. This could mean excusing yourself to take a quick walk around the block or simply sitting at your desk with noise-cancelling headphones on and nothing playing.
- Practicing deep breathing. These types of exercises can help clear your mind and reduce stress.
- Eliminating background noise. While this may not be possible somewhere busy like Oregano’s, you could go eat before the dinner rush or request a quiet booth to prevent or reduce fatigue.
For more information about listening fatigue or to schedule an appointment with a hearing expert, call Arizona Desert ENT Specialists today!