The Truth About Listening Fatigue

After a long period of staring at our phone or computer screen, it is normal for our eyes to grow tired and weary. However, did you know that the same sensation can happen to our ears after extended periods of listening? This condition is called listening fatigue and is particularly common among people with sensorineural hearing loss. Here is the science behind listening fatigue and what techniques you can use to cope with it.

What is listening fatigue?

To understand listening fatigue, you must first understand sensorineural hearing loss. Your inner ears contain thousands of sensory hair cells; these are responsible for deciphering the sounds your outer ears gather into electrical signals, which are then sent along the auditory nerve to your brain. Every hair cell corresponds to a specific pitch or frequency, meaning that when any hair cells die or become damaged, the auditory system loses its ability to translate that frequency, making it more challenging for your brain to process auditory information.

For people with sensorineural hearing loss, the brain must work harder to make sense of the information it receives from the inner ear. Therefore, the simple act of listening requires increased effort and energy, leaving the listener feeling mentally drained and weary.

Can hearing aids help with listening fatigue?

Depending on the severity of your hearing loss, hearing aids and cochlear implants can be an excellent way of coping with listening fatigue, as they assist with listening and speech comprehension. In 2011, researchers from Vanderbilt University conducted a study examining how hearing aids can affect listening effort and fatigue. It consisted of 16 adults between 47 and 69 years of age with mild to severe sensorineural hearing loss. The study tested participants’ word recognition, word recall, and visual reaction time both with and without hearing aids. The results found that participants exhibited better word recall and faster reaction times when wearing hearing aids.

Tips for coping with listening fatigue

Eliminate background noise when possible

People with hearing loss often already struggle with distinguishing speech from background noise, meaning significant background noise can exacerbate listening fatigue. When possible, remove yourself from environments with ample background noise in order to conserve your energy and make it easier to follow conversations.

Take a break from the noise

This may seem obvious, but do not underestimate the importance of taking just 15 to 20 minutes of your daily routine to enjoy some silence. Spend your lunch break in a quiet outdoor area or skip your habit of listening to music or a podcast on your way home in order to give your ears and brain a break.

Take a nap

According to the National Sleep Foundation, a nap as short as 20 to 30 minutes can do wonders for your alertness, without compromising your night-time sleep or leaving you feeling disorientated and sleepy.

Seek support from The Art of Hearing

If you have sensorineural hearing loss and have noticed that you are feeling more exhausted than usual despite being generally healthy, you may be experiencing listening fatigue. At The Art of Hearing, our Perth audiologists are dedicated to helping you with your hearing health, whether that involves conducting a regular hearing check or providing expert tips on how to cope with your listening fatigue. To contact The Art of Hearing’s expert team, make an appointment through our website or call us on (08) 9390 8811.