Are you struggling to heaR and Feel tireD?
Listening fatigue is a real thing. If you are struggling to hear what people are saying and find yourself going home exhausted after a day trying to stay in the conversation, you are not alone.
When you have a hearing loss, listening is hard work, understanding everything that someone said is usually even harder work. Long gone are the days when I could casually overhear a conversation without putting in any effort, I have a severe hearing loss and even though I wear excellent hearing aids, it's still often hard work.
I've been wearing hearing aids for 30+ years now, some have worked better than others. Often over those 30 years I have looked forward to getting home in the evening and taking my hearing aids out for a bit of peace and quiet - which friends and family with normal hearing have struggled to understand, "surely you want to hear as much as you can?". What they didn't realise was that I was exhausted from listening all day and needed a rest.
Tiredness caused by hearing loss can be due to two things: spending too much time straining to hear what someone is saying or being surrounded by too many sounds for long periods.
Listener Fatigue is the name given to tiredness due to exposure to too many sounds over a period of time, i.e. your ears are overloaded with sounds, your brain is overloaded with trying to proces them all, so you get tired.
Too much noise for new hearing aid wearers
First-time hearing aid wearers can suffer with noise overload, simply because they are hearing so many new sounds, and louder sounds, through their new aids. The hearing professional who fitted the aids should be on top of this and will have set the aids to a lower-than-needed volume for the first few weeks of use. Even so, people often leave the first hearing aid fitting with the volume too high, or most likely, the volume sounded good in the fitting but now some noises are too loud, or they go about their normal lives and some enviroments they are in are overwhelming.
What to do?
Don't be scared to try turning the hearing aids down. There's a tendenancy to think that more volume means hearing more but that's often not the case, hearing aids are designed for voice clarity, not to blast your ears with volume, trying turning then down a notch and see if you can still hear voices. If your aids have a smartphone app you can probably tinker with the sound even more, if your app has the feature, trying turning down the base/low-pitch sounds a little, that should reduce the background and "other sounds" a bit whilst hopefully still allowing you to hear voices.
Keep wearing them
Even though you are finding things too noisy and getting tired and overloaded I would still recommend keeping the hearing aids in and turning them down rather than not wearing them. A lot of people get frustrated with new hearing aids, take them out and return them for a refund - they are missing out on the long term benefits of hearing more. A lower volume will still let you hear more than no hearing aids. Having said that, of course take breaks from your hearing aids if its all too much.
Being somewhere that is too noisy
So your hearing aids work really well for you, you can hear family and friends most of the time and everything is great - except for that one place where you go and its too noisy, too difficult to listen and you get tired, bored, annoyed and drop out of the conversation.
For me, the places that have left me shattered from noise overload have been open-plan offices, they are so noisy - there's a lot of voices all around all day long, multiple conversations being had at the same time tha often made it difficult to concentrate on my own, doors banging, chairs scraping, cups clinking, printers, air conditioning, phones ringing, loud phone calls, etc. Whoever thought open-planned offices would improve collabaration and help people get work done were very, very wrong.
In the past when I've been getting overloaded in the office, I'd go home exhausted. The other problem of having so much noise around was that I was still struggling to hear conversations, to try and hear more I turned up the volume, which just made the background more noisy too, making the situation worse.
What to do?
Firstly, ask your hearing aid provider to set you up with a programme on your hearing aid specifically for the noisy place - if your hearing aids are working great for you most of the time but not here, you need to try something different. Explain to them in as much detail as you can about the environment and the types of noise that are causing fatigue, explain what you do need to hear as well. Once you have the new programme on your hearing aid, switch to it and try it out, go back to the provider again if its not right and keep tweaking until you get something that isn't making you want to grab a nap. Hearing aids are very tunable, you'd be surprised how different your hearing provider can make them sound for you to fit a specific problem environment.
Get away from the noise that is tiring you out whenever you can, even if it's just for 5-10 minutes - give your ears and brain a chance to have a rest.
Straining to hear all the time
Presumably hearing is easy when you don't have a hearing loss, you can casually get on with whatever you are doing and a sweet voice will effortlessly drift into you ear, you'll respond without even thinking about it and you'll go on doing whatever you were doing. Bliss. Unfortunately, for those of us with hearing loss, it's a much bigger effort.
If you are straining to hear a conversation it is going to be a lot of effort and you'll get tired. if you are with a group of friends in a noisy restaraunt and you are working constantly to stay in the conversation you are going to be filling pretty wiped out after a while.
If you are in a situation where you are expecting someone to talk and you are listening hard for a voice it is going to not only be work but its going to stress you out waiting and listening and hoping you hear the voice when it comes. This could be in an office where someone from the next table might call you from their seat at some point, just to ask if you've got a report or somesuch - can you relax or are you constantly listening for your name or something relating to you? Tiring.
What to do?
Tell people about your hearing loss. So many people keep their hearing problem hidden and cause themselves so much hassle, stress, pain and fatigue trying to strain to listen all the time. If everyone in the office knows you struggle to hear, they aren't going to talk to you from afar, or if they do and you don't respond it becomes their problem, not yours: less stress for you, less straining to listen, less fatigue - meaning you can go home in the evening and enjoy the Downton Abbey box set instead of sparking out on the sofa.
Seriously, just tell people about your hearing loss.
Try a hearing aid or if you already have one, get it seen by a professional. Hearing aids are really great these days, they are small and discreet and sound amazing, you'll be surprised how much they can help you. If you already have an aid and are struggling then get it checked by a hearing aid professional, don't fall into the trap of thinking what you are hearing is "all that there is". No. Hearing aid can be tweaked and tuned in all sorts of ways, you might even find that your aids are just blocked by some wax and need a clean. Don't settle for bad hearing.
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It's a Thing
Tiredness due to hearing difficulties is something that affects a lot of us, try and change your situation in some of the ways mentioned above to ease it off. Don't use it as an excuse to get rid of your hearing aids, it's worth persevering and getting the benefits of hearing more. If you are struggling to hear, try a hearing aid and at the very least tell people around you that you are struggling, most people will be only too happy to help you out when they can.
Posted by Steve
I have been wearing hearing aids since I was five years old, when a mild hearing loss was first diagnosed - now aged 45, that mild loss has progressed to a severe one and I rely on some pretty awesome hearing aid technology to be able to stay in the conversation. I'm passionate about helping people to understand hearing loss, hear more and communicate more easily.