Hearing Loss and Listening Fatigue

Hearing Solution

According to a 2021 National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) report, hearing loss affects 13% of all adults and 26.8% of those aged 65 and over. Numerous studies cover hearing loss and its increasing prevalence with age, making it a well-understood issue.

However, one of the primary effects of hearing loss is listening fatigue. While it is one of the most common conditions associated with hearing loss, listening fatigue and its relationship with hearing loss aren’t as commonly discussed. For example, if you’ve ever felt tired or unable to concentrate after listening to conversations or loud noises for extended periods, you’ve experienced a form of listening fatigue.

If you or a loved one has reduced hearing, explore the connection between hearing loss and listening fatigue to discover effective strategies for managing these challenges and how using the right hearing aids can improve your quality of life.

Understanding Hearing Loss

Hearing loss, also known as reduced hearing or hearing impairment, is a condition defined as the partial or complete inability to hear sounds. An individual is considered to have hearing loss if one or both of their ears cannot hear the full range of sounds within the human audible spectrum.

Typically, conditions causing hearing loss begin by affecting specific sound ranges. For example, someone with reduced hearing due to aging may be less capable of correctly hearing higher-pitched sounds, such as ringtones or certain spoken consonants like s, f, and h.

If left untreated or unaddressed, hearing loss can worsen and progress to a wider range of sounds, affecting the ability to understand conversations or listen to music.

What Are the Different Types of Hearing Loss?

According to the CDC, there are three main types of hearing loss symptoms: conductive, sensorineural, and mixed. Most forms of hearing loss are in these three categories.

Hearing loss type Definition Examples
Conductive Sound cannot pass through the outer or middle ear correctly
  • Earwax buildup
  • Most ear infections
  • Perforated eardrums
Sensorineural The inner ear or hearing nerves cannot process sounds correctly
  • Aging-related hearing loss
  • Noise damage
  • Side effects of drugs or prescriptions
Mixed A mixture of conductive and sensorineural problems

Intensity Levels of Hearing Loss

Besides type, hearing loss is also frequently categorized by intensity. The CDC uses four broad intensity categories, helping patients and professionals differentiate between various cases:

  • Mild. Individuals with mild hearing loss typically only have issues with specific sounds or pitches. For example, they may be able to follow most conversations but have trouble with softer or higher-pitched sounds.
  • Moderate. People with moderate hearing loss may be unable to perceive normal speech or experience most sounds as if they were heavily muffled or suppressed.
  • Severe. Hearing loss is severe if the ears cannot perceive speech at normal speaking volumes. A person with severely reduced hearing can generally only perceive louder sounds.
  • Profound. At this level, a person’s hearing loss is either total or near-total. They typically cannot hear speech and may only be able to perceive the loudest sounds.

Hearing Aids

Most Common Signs of Hearing Loss

Many signs can indicate someone’s hearing might be impaired or reduced in some way. If you experience one or multiple of the following signs, you may have hearing loss, and you should consider a professional assessment:

  • Difficulties understanding conversations. A common sign of hearing loss is issues hearing or understanding conversations. Check whether you have trouble hearing specific tones or sounds in certain words or noisy environments, such as when multiple other people are speaking.
  • Relying on lip-reading. Some people with reduced hearing may also develop a lip-reading habit to compensate. While lip reading can help, it is only partial compensation. The CDC estimates that a good lip reader can only parse 4 to 5 words in an average 12-word sentence. Concentrating on the lips to guess words or meanings can be a sign you have hearing loss.
  • Increasing device volume. Do you frequently need to turn up the volume on your television, computer, radio, or mobile phone? If others consider your devices too loud, you may increase the volume to compensate for reduced hearing.
  • Asking others to repeat themselves. When speaking to others, notice how often you ask them to repeat themselves or say specific words louder. If you constantly need to ask people to repeat themselves, it may be a sign of hearing loss. This can be exacerbated when speaking over the phone or through a headset due to the reduced sound quality compared to a face-to-face conversation.
  • Muffled sounds. Some people with hearing loss perceive sounds as muffled, distorted, or suppressed, making distinguishing specific tones or pitches harder. One of the most common forms of suppressed hearing is an inability to perceive high-pitched sounds correctly, such as birds chirping or children’s voices.
  • Ringing ears. Some forms of hearing loss are accompanied by tinnitus, which manifests through a constant sound frequently described as buzzing, ringing, hissing, or whistling. Tinnitus is a common symptom of occupational hearing loss. The CDC estimates that, among Americans with hearing difficulty, 1 in 4 received their impairment from occupational exposure, such as loud noises or chemicals.

Effects of Hearing Loss on Daily Life

Hearing loss affects nearly every aspect of everyday life, regardless of type or intensity. It can worsen social interactions, work performance, general communication, and overall quality of life.

  • Social withdrawal. Individuals with hearing loss often withdraw from conversations or social gatherings. The fear of misunderstanding conversation topics usually causes this. Communication becomes more challenging and less enjoyable, leading to feelings of loneliness and isolation.
  • Reduced job performance. Impaired hearing can degrade a person’s work performance, especially if their job requires good listening or communication skills. For example, they may be less able to understand instructions, listen to customers, participate in meetings, or hear critical auditory cues.
  • Emotional and psychological impact. Reduced hearing can cause stress, anxiety, and fear of becoming unable to hear or understand conversations. A 2017 study demonstrated that people with mild hearing loss are at a 32% higher risk of developing an anxiety disorder. The risk increases to 59% for people with hearing loss classified as moderate or higher.
  • Safety risks. Hearing impairments can limit or prevent a person from detecting warning signals, alarms, or sounds announcing an incoming danger, increasing the risk of injury. Examples of sounds that can be missed or misheard include fire alarms or an approaching vehicle’s horn.
  • Cognitive decline. Recent studies have uncovered a strong correlation between hearing loss and cognitive decline, particularly among older people. While the intensity of the hearing impairment varies from person to person, a 2023 study showed that untreated hearing loss generally results in some form of cognitive decline. Cognitive decline is an early sign of many mental diseases, such as dementia.

What is Listening Fatigue?

Listening fatigue, also called auditory fatigue, is characterized by exhaustion or weariness after listening to overly intense sounds or prolonged exposure to a loud environment. When a person experiences listening fatigue, they must exert extra effort or actively focus on their hearing to correctly interpret sounds and words.

Individuals without hearing impairments frequently experience listening fatigue in a noisy environment. You may have experienced it if you’ve tried listening to a conversation in a room with loud music or background chatter.

Hearing loss and listening fatigue are closely linked. People with hearing loss need to make an effort to understand sounds, unlike the temporary challenge of a noisy environment. This constant strain often leads to more frequent and intense listening fatigue.

Symptoms of Listening Fatigue

Listening fatigue happens when you have to work hard for a long time to pick out specific sounds from background noise. If you feel tired or struggle to concentrate while listening, you might be experiencing listening fatigue.

  • General tiredness. If you feel unusually tired or sleepy after intensely listening to sounds or conversations, your body may have exerted too much energy, resulting in listening fatigue. Common examples of situations where this can happen include conversations at social gatherings or work meetings.
  • Inability to concentrate. Most individuals can only focus intensely for short periods without resting or recovering. Actively listening beyond your concentration limits can cause your focus to drop suddenly.
  • Headaches. Repeatedly straining your concentration to hear and process sounds around you can increase your cognitive load. It can lead to increased stress and tension and eventually cause headaches, especially in noisier settings.
  • Frustration and irritability. Straining yourself to process or understand sounds repeatedly, such as trying to listen to a hard-to-follow conversation, can induce frustration and irritation. It can also increase the likelihood of withdrawing from social situations due to anticipating fatigue and further frustration.
  • Altered senses. Listening fatigue can alter your listening ability, exacerbating existing hearing impairments. It can also increase your sensitivity to certain sounds to the point of discomfort, meaning that the sounds you can still hear may feel irritating, overwhelming, or even painful.

How Listening Fatigue Affects Adults and Children

While both adults and children with hearing loss can experience listening fatigue, the causes and circumstances vary. Below is a table breaking down the differences.

Individual Aspect Effects on Adults Effects on Children
Primary Environments Workplace settings and noisy social gatherings At school, especially in noisy classrooms
Daily Life Impact
  • Decreased productivity
  • Increased stress
  • Impaired social interactions
  • Shortened attention span
  • Impacts learning ability
  • Reduced academic performance
Social and Emotional Impact
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Decreased concentration
  • Avoidance of noisy situations
  • Irritability
  • Changes in behavior
  • Withdrawal from social or academic activities
  • Inattentiveness

Dealing with Hearing Loss

If you suspect you have lost some of your hearing capabilities, seek medical help as soon as possible. Look for the most common signs of hearing loss, such as difficulty following conversations, turning the volume up, or constantly asking others to repeat themselves.

However, realizing you have hearing loss on your own can be challenging. Your mind and body will unconsciously adapt to the gradual changes in your hearing capabilities, making it hard to detect how much hearing loss you have.

Talk to friends, family, and loved ones; they can provide a different perspective and may notice symptoms you might have missed.

If there are no signs indicating hearing loss, schedule regular check-ups or screenings with medical professionals. They can help measure your hearing and accurately assess the degree of loss over time. Screenings are essential if you are over 65, the age category most at risk of hearing loss. Early detection can help you and your healthcare team develop an effective treatment plan to minimize hearing loss over time and help prevent listening fatigue.

Hearing Aids for hearing solution

How to Prevent Further Hearing Loss

Start protecting your hearing even before getting a professional assessment. The following methods can help prevent further hearing loss and improve the effectiveness of your treatment:

  • Avoid loud environments. Minimize your exposure to loud areas and loud noises. Familiarize yourself with decibel ratings and avoid environments where the sound level reaches or exceeds 80 dB, at which sustained exposure may result in further hearing loss.
  • Use hearing protection when necessary. Use appropriate hearing protection whenever possible if you can’t avoid loud noises or environments. Various earplugs and earmuffs can help reduce the impact of ambient sounds, protecting your ears from exposure to excessive sounds.
  • Regulate your devices’ volume. Check the volume on your television, mobile phone, and other devices. The Department of Defense Hearing Center of Excellence has developed Safe Listening rules to help. It recommends avoiding 100% volume on all devices and following the 60:60 rule: no more than 60 minutes at 60% of maximum volume, with periodic breaks of 15-20 minutes to let your ears recover.
  • Maintain proper ear hygiene. Avoid cleaning your ears by inserting cotton swabs or other objects. This risks pushing ear wax further down the canal, leading to blockage, potential eardrum damage, and infections, which can negatively impact your hearing.

The Role of Hearing Devices in Treating Hearing Loss and Listening Fatigue

If a medical professional has diagnosed you with hearing loss, you may be prescribed at least one of three possible hearing devices. Each plays a different role in treating hearing loss, managing listening fatigue, and improving your quality of life.

The three main types of hearing devices are hearing aids, assistive listening devices (ALDs), and cochlear implants.

  • Hearing aids combine a microphone, an amplifier, and a speaker to help combat the effects of mild to severe hearing loss. Typical hearing aids are electronic and deliver digital sound. However, modern analog devices such as the Analog Hearing Labs TrueEQ use the highest-quality audio components to provide a cleaner, true-to-life sound.
  • Assistive Listening Devices (ALDs) are electronic devices that filter noise from sounds, such as speech from background noises. They can be used alone or in conjunction with hearing aids to help people focus on desired sounds more easily, reducing listening fatigue.
  • Cochlear implants are electronic devices that pick up sounds and deliver them directly to the auditory nerve, allowing the brain to process and interpret them. They are typically prescribed only in the most severe or profound cases of hearing loss, especially when the inner ear is damaged or compromised. Although cochlear implants are highly effective, they must be surgically implanted to function.

Enjoy a Better Quality of Life with Analog Hearing Labs

At Analog Hearing Labs, we aim to help you combat hearing loss and listening fatigue by using the highest-quality materials and the latest technologies.

Our TrueEQ analog hearing aids were designed with the research and input of our team of doctors, audiologists, and hearing specialists. We offer the only modern hearing aids on the market that don’t rely on digital amplification and electronic means of sound delivery. The TrueEQ is manufactured from audiology-grade transducers to maximize sound clarity and let you hear pure, natural sounds once more.

Contact us today to place an order or learn more about how TrueEQ can help you start using hearing aids as comfortably as possible.

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