Listening fatigue is exactly what it sounds like; it happens after a lengthy time frame of listening to any noise. Music or talk, television, radio and anything else that creates sound and can be tiring.
This type of fatigue will leave you feeling uncomfortable, weary, potentially in some pain and a loss of sensitivity. This fatigued feeling could be a short or long-term phenomenon. Listening requires effort and energy, and for individuals with even a small hearing impairment, those efforts are magnified and are more taxing on our brain. The greater hearing loss we have, the more likely we are to become exhausted after a typical day’s work. It’s just the nature of the beast and nothing we are or are not doing.
Causes for this type of fatigue are not yet clearly identified; however, it may be part of how we mentally perceive sound. If you avidly listen to music or work around loud noises all day like construction or military you are more likely to experience this singularity. It is also known to be more impactful to the auditory portion of our inner ear. And there are several theories:
- Sensory overload: hearing too many sounds from too many sources is believed to be one possible cause
- Radio music has both musical and non-musical elements that are called, sonic artifacts and they are things like sound staging or dynamic range compression. When the music and the non-musical traits mix, they can become unbalanced which makes the artifacts more uncomfortably prominent for us and we will tend to be less focused on the music
- In the digital environment, we live in today, that equipment can also distort sounds and the way we hear them. The system itself is trying to do more with less, and the result is a reduction in the data that reduces quality. In this theory, we may tend to increase the volume to hear better, and we end up with listener fatigue instead.
- Wearing headphones is often considered a mechanism to aid in privacy and to avoid idle chatter; however, there is evidence that wearing headphones for anyone who may be hearing impaired isn’t a clever idea. This is because it blocks our ear canal and contributes to listener fatigue. Headphones also create pressure chambers in our eardrums and can reduce sound waves, but the pressure will remain, and we tend to want to increase volumes again. It becomes a vicious cycle.
There are two primary risks associated with listening fatigue, and they are physical activity and temperature/heat exposure.
- Physical activity combined with loud noises has been proven to force a short shift in our perception. Increases metabolic activity occurs because of intense vibrations, which inherently comes with physical activity and many of us exercise with music.
- Body temperatures are another risk as our blood temperatures go up, our perceptions increase as well and will decrease our oxygen supply. Sound needs that oxygen for transduction.
How to Overcome Fatigue
Using a hearing aid will lessen the stress of listening and communicating because it improves our hearing ability and our brains need to be less energetic as a result. Hearing aids can help isolate the sounds you want to hear and reduce environmental noises. Additional ways to avoid listening fatigue include:
- Find an empty space and turn your hearing aid off, give yourself a ten-minute break
- Get out for lunch; you don’t have to eat in a noisy room or cafeteria, take a walk, find a place away from the office that brings you joy
- The power of deep cleansing breaths is underestimated. If you feel stressed and don’t have time for that ten-minute break take two minutes, rest your eyes and enjoy several deep breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth
- Cut off the television and the radio and read quietly
- Take a nap
- Politely step away from a noisy environment if you can, it’s okay
When in doubt, always consider visiting your hearing care provider for additional help. If you wear a programmable hearing aid, we may be able to adjust it in a way that better meets your needs.