Woman feeling very tired and fatigued because of hearing loss.

 

Constant fatigue can be a sign that something’s not quite right with your hearing.

Feel like you’re ready for bed as soon as you get home from work–or have trouble keeping your eyes open while you’re there? Assuming your job isn’t insanely physically demanding (hey, some people are professional American Gladiators, right?) or you haven’t hit an Office Space-esque level of job dissatisfaction, there could be another reason for your constant weariness.

If you’re suffering from hearing loss or similar conditions, like tinnitus your tiredness might be caused by listening fatigue. Listening fatigue isn’t when someone you barely know corners you at a party, and you’re desperately scanning the room for any excuse to escape. Listening fatigue is worse because it’s something you struggle with all the time. After all, that hypothetical party’s one night–and if your hearing is impaired, it’s something that you have to deal with every day.

Wi__ _earing _os_, _ver_ _ay _ight _e _ike __is.

Not an easy sentence to read, is it? But it’s an (admittedly rough) visual approximation of how your day might go if you’re struggling with hearing loss. Whether it’s an unclear sound or a missed word, you’re constantly filling in the blanks. (If you fill in the blanks above, the sentence reads “With hearing loss, every day might be like this.”)

We rely on our senses to, well, make sense of the world around us. If one of your senses is impaired, you’re working that much harder simply to get through the day. Say you work in an office. From an audio perspective, it’s probably not a loud place–your hearing isn’t endangered by decibel overload. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to hear.

Phone calls. Meetings. Face-to-face conversations, whether work-related or straight-up gossip. And that’s just vocals; we haven’t even gotten into other sounds, like the ping of a new email hitting your inbox.

“Bandwidth” is one of those charming tech terms that’s become a buzzword, usually meaning whether you have time to take on a task. But getting closer to its tech roots–the amount of data that a connection can process at once–bandwidth is an apt metaphor for discussing listening fatigue.

In order to process the sounds going on around you (and reply intelligently, or at least accurately, to them), at least three different parts of your brain are activated. Neurons related to hearing, comprehension, and speech all need to be firing–and that takes up bandwidth. But if you have trouble hearing, more parts of your brain need to pitch in. When you’re always “filling in the blanks,” you need greater concentration (so as not to miss anything) and reasoning (to make inferences from context). Second-guessing yourself with “Did I miss something?” or “Was that the right thing to say?” can stoke anxiety.

All of this extra effort uses up more of your brain’s bandwidth–and could potentially go a long way toward explaining why you feel tired all the time. (We keep using work-related examples, but listening fatigue can make leisure activities like having lunch with a friend or going to the movies a lot less fun, too.) Using all your bandwidth on listening and comprehension can also be related to memory issues–with its energy focused on processing sounds, your brain is less likely to store what you’re hearing in your working (a.k.a. short-term) memory.

The good news? Taking steps to mitigate your hearing loss, like getting hearing aids, can help reduce listening fatigue. Improving your ability to hear takes the “guesswork” out of listening, freeing up more of your brain’s bandwidth. And today’s hearing aids aren’t simply amplifiers. There are sophisticated options available that help with other aspects of hearing loss that can be especially cognitively taxing, like tuning in on a conversation when you’re in a place with background noise or tuning out distracting sounds like ringing in your ears.

If you’re always feeling tired, and you think that hearing loss could have something to do with it, consider making an appointment to have a hearing test and talk to a hearing specialist about your options. Better hearing–and a better quality of life–is within reach.

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