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When fatigue is experienced chronically, it can be an indication of an underlying health issue that you may be unaware of. Listening fatigue is a common symptom of hearing loss, a medical condition that impacts over 40 million people in the U.S. According to the National Institute on Deafness & Other Communication Disorders, nearly 1 in 8 people have some degree of hearing loss. Impaired hearing is the third most common chronic medical condition that adults experience. Though it is pervasive, hearing loss is often under-treated because it happens gradually so people may not be aware of it for quite some time. It is important to be aware of the symptoms so you can identify
How Hearing Works
Hearing loss can be caused by factors including: existing medical conditions, genetic history, aging, and environmental exposure to loud noise. These factors can damage different parts of the auditory system which requires the complete function of the ears:
- Outer Ear: is the most visible part of the ear (cartilage), the ear canal, and eardrum which separates the outer ear from the middle ear.
- Middle Ear: includes the ossicles, three tiny bones that are connected.
- Inner Ear: is composed of the cochlea which is filled with hair cells and fluid, in addition to nerve pathways that lead to the brain.
The outer ear collects sound from the environment which goes through the ear canal and lands on the eardrum. The vibration of the eardrum and ossicles propels the soundwaves further into the inner ear which activates the cochlea. The movement of the hair cells and fluid in the cochlea help convert the soundwaves into electrical signals that the nerve pathways then send to the brain. This allows the brain to process and make meaning of the sound we hear. When this process is disrupted, this results in hearing loss.
Hearing Loss & Fatigue
Hearing loss typically results from damage of the hair cells in the cochlea. When these hair cells lose sensitivity or die, they are unable to convert soundwaves into electrical impulses for the brain. This causes the brain to overwork and expend more energy to try and process the incoming information it’s receiving. In addition to this cognitive overload, there is a range of symptoms that contribute to fatigue including:
- Tinnitus: a buzzing or ringing like noise in one or both ears
- Increasing the volume on electronic devices (phone, speaker, television etc.)
- Frequently needing others to repeat themselves, speak loudly, and/or slowly
- Sounds are muffled and unclear
- Difficulty hearing, particularly in environments with background noise
- Ability to hear more clearly in one ear compared to the other
These symptoms make it challenging to follow a conversation. People with hearing loss may try to read mouths to identify words, focus on other nonverbal communication, ask for clarification etc. This experience can be exhausting and leave people feeling drained from interactions!
Fortunately, there are effective ways to alleviate these symptoms and treat hearing loss. The first step in addressing any degree of impairment is to schedule an appointment with a hearing healthcare specialist for a hearing test. Hearing tests involve a noninvasive and simple process that measures your hearing ability in both ears. This establishes any hearing impairment, the degree, and specific type of hearing loss you may be experiencing.
The most common treatment for hearing loss is hearing aids. These are small electronic devices that are designed to absorb, amplify, and process sound; significantly increasing your ability to hear. Treating hearing loss has numerous benefits including: better hearing, alleviated symptoms, improved relationships, decreased risk of developing other conditions, and overall improved quality of health and well-being.
In addition to treating hearing loss, there are a few useful ways that you can protect your hearing health:
- Take listening breaks: our ears need time to rest and recover from constantly absorbing sound so taking listening breaks is important!
- Wear protection: like ear plugs, earmuffs, and headphones which reduces the amount of sound waves you absorb and serve as a protective barrier.
- Reduce exposure: try to avoid places with loud background noise, limit noise when you can (radio, television) etc.
Practicing these measures can also alleviate fatigue and help you feel more energized throughout the day!