Does Stress Affect Hearing?

Many times I have clients come in and tell me they think their hearing has dropped off or their hearing aids aren’t working properly. Of course, the first thing I do is troubleshoot to make sure that is not the case.

Then I start to ask questions: Are you tired or fatigued? Are you under stress? Have you been ill? Answering yes to any of these questions lets me know the issue may not be with the patient’s hearing but rather their understanding of speech. To hear a dog bark, the brain knows what it is without having to interpret the meaning. But to hear speech, the brain must first hear the voice, then assign meaning to the words. To accomplish this, you have to be able to focus on what is being said. Concentration can be affected by stress, fatigue, illness or any strong emotion, for that matter.

Fatigue affects everyone, whether they have hearing loss or not. A simple example of this is getting in your car at the end of the day and listening to the radio. When you get in the car the next morning, the radio blasts out loudly from where you set it the night before. We make the sound louder when we’re tired to help us focus more easily. This holds true for stress and illness, as well.

Illness is more obvious. If you don’t feel well, you can’t concentrate as easily on things. Don’t forget to consider any pain or anti-anxiety medications you might take. The medication itself can “fog” the brain and make it harder to focus.

Stress can come from many things, good and bad, whether it’s being caretaker to a spouse with a long-term illness or perhaps getting together with family and friends over the holidays. Be aware of situations that affect your ability to concentrate and understand how that can make conversations more difficult. So, as the holidays approach, make sure to find some stress-free time for yourself.

Happy Holidays!

Ellen Baker – Audiologist

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