Do You Get Hearing Loss Exhaustion?

Do you get hearing loss exhaustion? I sometimes do. Particularly on days where there is more listening than normal required — like at a conference or when there is a social gathering at the end of the day. Even family outings can be exhausting if everyone is talking at once and there is plenty of activity. One time there was such an exhausting activity, I just walked out in order to save my sanity. I now refer to it as the Circle of Hearing Hell. Here is what happened.

Living With Hearing Loss | A Hearing Loss Blog

We were at a weekend retreat for my daughter’s school and while the children were off working with the teachers on a project, the parents were expected to mingle and meet each other. Instead of a traditional cocktail party, the organizers tried a get-to-know-each-other game where the parents sat on chairs in two circles, one inside the other, so that each parent was sitting across from someone she didn’t know. You were then asked to discuss a certain topic with this person, until the organizers announced, “Rotate!” at which point everyone in the inner circle shifted one chair to the left. Then you were to discuss a second topic with this new person. And so it went for several rotations.

You can only imagine the noise level in the room, with 150 parents chatting away simultaneously! When everyone was talking, I clocked the noise at about 90 decibels on my handy iPhone decibel reader. I tried my best for two or three rotations, but honestly, I couldn’t really follow what the person across from me was saying. I typically do better with female voices (I have better high pitch hearing), but in this context, it didn’t seem to matter. Male or female, I could only speech read about half of what they were saying. At least I knew the topic we were supposed to be discussing, so that helped, but it was exhausting.

I rarely walk out of a situation because of my hearing loss. I am not a quitter and always search for a work-around, but in this case, it just wasn’t happening. The overall background noise combined with a new voice to learn every 5 minutes, was just too much. Between rotations, I excused myself to go to the ladies room, and never returned. My husband stayed to carry the family torch and collect my daughter once she returned from her programming.

My takeaway from this experience, is that sometimes, you just have to protect yourself. I made an effort to meet as many parents as possible in other settings throughout the weekend, so no harm done. Plus, by leaving this situation, I preserved my energy for other interactions which would be more productive. Hey, life is a tradeoff, and I have no regrets about the tradeoff I made in this case. In fact, I encourage everyone to take the time they need for rest, so they can enjoy and thrive in the communication situations that are to come.

Readers, how do you protect yourself in situations like the Circle of Hearing Hell?

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98 thoughts on “Do You Get Hearing Loss Exhaustion?

  1. I can so relate…at times I too just walk away because of the frustration of not being able to hear and to process what is being said. No matter how much I try it becomes a game of one who can hear and one who cannot and that one is the loser hands down. I realize it will get harder as the years add to my life span but I do wish I could work around this and offer explanations that are helpful to others. Any ideas you can offer would be gratefully received.

    • Thanks so much for your comment. It helps to know others feel the same way. I try not to let it get me down, but rather manipulate the situation so that it works better if at all possible. I find being open about my hearing loss also helps. BUT sometimes, I think it is better to walk away and save your energy for a more productive situation.

  2. “Circle of Hearing Hell” is exactly that! Just reading this gave me a tinge of anxiety! I’ve been through this scenario so many times, and I also bow out when it gets too intense.

  3. I swear we live a similar life. I have hearing aids now, but even when wearing them it’s still hard to single out what one person is saying when the environment changes to include more voices or sounds. Not only that, I have slight social anxiety which makes it worse when I can’t understand what’s really going on. Unless I’m reading someone’s lips, which is becoming hard to do lately… I feel like I don’t know what’s going on at all.
    Thank you for sharing your story, I really needed to see that I’m not alone in this, and that it really is OK to protect myself by removing myself from the stress. 🙂

  4. Here’s one thing that helps – NOT drinking. While alcohol does lessen inhibitions and makes us more social, I am convinced that it negatively impacts the concentration I need to listen carefully and speech read adequately. Just one glass of wine and I lose my sharpness. Conversely, a little caffeine by way of a Coke can do wonders for my concentration.

    • good luck with getting anyone to provide CART for you. I need real-time captioning as other assistive devices don’t give enough clarity to follow. My workplace would not provide it since it was prohibitively expensive to hire someone to do it, let alone find many in the area who did it.

      • It never hurts to try and advocate for yourself if you know that you struggle in these situations. Talk with a supervisor and get emotion to resonate with that person then hopefully they will understand the need and make the accommodations necessary for a comfortable environment.

      • My work won’t even provide a phone amplifier that “works” well. I’m not allowed to answer the phone . They are Braking so many ADA,

  5. Completely understand how you feel! Especially after a full day of meetings at work, I come home and I just want to stare into space and zone out. Even simple tasks such as cooking together as a couple can be exhausting b/c I have to read my husbands lips and can’t just chop away at the food and maintain a conversation. We’re all in this together!

  6. I experience this as well. Also so many people speak with their hands over their mouths that it interferes with my limited lip reading skills. I was at a meeting recently where we had to split into groups and all of us that were hard of hearing formed a group and went into a quiet room….this really helped.

  7. In noisy situations, I have long used an assistive listening device or system with a directional microphone, pointing it at the mouth of the person speaking. This helps tremendously to improve the signal to noise ratio and decreases the effort required to understand speech. Every person who has significant trouble understanding speech in noise would benefit greatly by owning such a device. The audiologist can help you learn more about such options, though the best way is to go to an annual HLAA convention’s exhibit hall, where you can try different ones from different vendors.

    For more info about HLAA, go to

  8. I have never been in this kind of game, thank goodness. With the exception of a whispering game, which I bombed , of course. Before I ever knew that my problem was my hearing. But in cases of exhaustion, I usually just fade out and get quiet. Most people never notice. They just keep talking to each other and I fade out. You have to choose what is important and hope you don’t miss out.

  9. There’s good reason it’s exhausting – your brain is consuming more energy as it attempts to process all that extra input. Seems like a wise decision to protect yourself and save energy for a better part of the day.

  10. I also have low tone hearing loss, and I experience this hearing loss exhaustion too. I’m waiting on new hearing aids, and using a dumb amplifier device in the meantime- but it amplifies everything! So I get a tension headache from straining to listen/watch lips, or a migraine from the amplifier- it’s a no win. I would say it’s just like eyestrain for the ears. It is exhausting, and takes up a lot of cognitive resources to have to focus so hard to make out what people are saying…. I for one am hoping the hearing aids will help with the exhaustion.

  11. I tend to find at any kind of social gathering, or simply where there is other noise than what or who I am trying to listen to that trying to concentrate so hard to listen and hear tires me out quickly and I end up in my own little world with a confusion of noise/babble. To some it may look that I am being unsociable etc, but it’s just the only way I find to cope. Ultimately I try to avoid any situation where this may happen and dislike dining out or parties etc anymore.

  12. Y-y-y-y-yep! I can associate with just about everyone’s comments and this article. I wish there was a better “solution” than basically giving up in certain situations and “saving yourself” for other interactions. But, I certainly haven’t found anything that works better. (I long for the day when something like Google Glass with automated, live captioning of everything all the time is available….)

    Despite being only 45 years old, I’ve been categorized as having “catastrophic hearing loss” – sounds ominous but I’ve never really received a clear explanation of what that means.

    Anyway, I just had another hearing test about two weeks ago and this time I decided to try something different. Usually, when I go in for a hearing test, I try extremely hard to do my absolute best. I pay RIVETED attention to the tones and words to try to catch as much as possible and score as highly as I can. Let me tell you, THAT is exhausting! I’m usually literally sweating by the time the tests are over and I usually have to at least take a nap afterwards, if I’m not out for the rest of the day from the exhaustion.

    This time, I decided I wasn’t going to kill myself because, let’s face it, I rarely “kill myself” in regular, ordinary, every day listening. I thought to myself that in regular, ordinary, every day situations, I’m not paying RAPT attention to every single noise that comes my way, nor am I absolutely RIVETED to every speaker’s word in every single interaction throughout the day. Sure enough, my test results this time were even worse than before.

    So, there you have it. Unless you (well, unless *I*, anyway) pay absolute RAPT, RIVETED attention constantly, throughout my entire waking day, I’m just not going to hear everything I would’ve otherwise; even with my hearing aids. If I try to, for even the 15-25 minutes that a usual hearing test takes, I’m absolutely wiped for the rest of the day. Trying to do that during a PTO meeting or kid’s camp or retreat or even a business meeting (which all usually last way more than 25 minutes) would probably put me in a mental health facility.

  13. I am retired now, but when I was in the closet at work, during meetings I would position myself as best as I could to get it all. Not understanding myself, after meetings, when everyone would chit chat…. I would leave immediately to the quiet of my office.

    Someone mentioned that I was rude and anti-social, leaving immediately after any meeting. I knew I was exhausted and really did not know why myself. Now I understand, yet explaining would not have helped any way. Now I take breaks in social settings and also understand why I get cranky! Better to understand yourself then worry about others understanding. Really too much explaining. Just Saturday I was volunteering at a flea market and the woman I was working with got angry because I was giving different prices then her. She assumed I was usurping her. I said I was sorry, but that I didn’t hear her. She stated, “yeah I heard you are deaf, are you wearing your hearing aids”?… I told her that was none of her business… She stated that I should if I was going to work with her. Apparently, the explanation that I wear cross-overs, sound from my left goes to my right ear would not help at a flea market. I kinda got down about it because I am trying to get out there and not be isolated since I am not working and my daughter is away at college…

  14. I have lost over 50% of my hearing and I know exactly how it feels to just become exhausted from trying to keep up with what people are saying. My hearing loss has been gradual but I never thought there would come a day when I would need a hearing aid. I’m only 24 so I have been really stubborn about the whole thing. I am in the market for aids just to try and combat the exhaustion. Thanks for sharing your story.

  15. […] To make things worse, at two of the six gates, the PA systems were not working so the gate agents made announcements using a megaphone or by shouting. Even the travelers with perfect hearing could not understand what was said. Watching their frustration at not being able to communicate was interesting, because in some cases, they simply waved their hands in disgust and tuned out. They didn’t try to understand what was said, but withdrew. It reminded me of what I and others with hearing loss sometimes do when we reach the point of hearing loss exhaustion. […]

  16. Hearing Loss Exhaustion! I love it. It so completely describes living with hearing loss. I am constantly concentrating on listening. I am constantly aware of not hearing enough. I am constantly aware of he Unawareness of others. In the end, I am tired, exhausted and often sad.

    I’m a musician who no longer hears music. I’m a conversationalist who can hardly keep up with conversation. love live performances and have myself performed, but can no longer hear in those venues. After I get done with being angry about all that, I try to focus on how lucky I am to be in my 80s and able to walk around and take nourishment. So I smile and keep trying every trick I can discover to enhance the quality of what I hear. Yes – it’s exhausting.

    I have to agree that alcohol does not work to one’s advantage in listening accurately, but in the end there is nothing like a stiff martini to take the edge off an exhausting day living with hearing loss.

    Thanks Shari, for this forum. I look forward to it. jh

  17. I have severe speech discrimination that robs me from hearing little to nothing at all. I have not read one post with this sort of hearing loss. . I use hearing aids that the only thing the do is amplify sounds which backfires since my problem is clarity and the amplification only distorts sounds more. ( they really are not very helpful) I’m really at a road block with my loss which is very exhausting and many times I wish I was actually deaf to avoid the extreme stress of trying desperately to understand.. As for me being in a any situation where the hearing is involved its complete exhaustion….. Would appreciate if anyone with the same loss could give me some input and ideas to help relieve some of the pre anxiety and stress of this very debilitating hearing loss.

    • You are not alone — I have the same problem, and I hear or understand certain people moderately well and many others not well at all. I met a girl 55 years ago when I was in graduate school whose voice was just perfect — she was the only person I could talk on the phone with for hours. Of course we got married and I never regretted that move.

      I posted my personal blog just now and you can read that too.

  18. I see nothing wrong with walking away from a situation you have no hope of participating in, no matter how well-meaning the other participants are. I have learned to make choices like that in order to have a meaningful life on my own terms, because I have a severe to profound sensorineural hearing loss alleviated adequately by a single hearing aid. This allows me to hear sounds and music but not understand conversations unless I lip read, and even then that can be iffy. Once I accepted my hearing limitations and what I can actually do, life got a whole lot easier. I focused on extending my abilities to use my other senses and intelligence and what little hearing I have to achieve all my goals. Hearing loss was not a barrier to intellectual and emotional achievement; I have a PhD in Physics and actually taught university for a while before working 40 years at a national laboratory with distinction. Married well — a hearing loss is a great way to screen out bad candidates for mates — we raised two children now on their own. I am extremely busy in retirement with multiple interests. Much of my activity is essentially a one-man operation and I enjoy that. My wife and I jointly enjoy activities where speech is not a factor, such as concerts and ballet performances. What few friends I have fully understand my situation and accommodate me in lots of ways. They would not be there otherwise.

  19. […] 1. Hearing loss is exhausting: When you have hearing loss, hearing takes work. This is hard for those with normal hearing to understand since hearing is so automatic for them. The best way I know to explain it is as a game board from Wheel of Fortune. Some of the letters are filled in, others are blank. The contestant (or listener in this case) is trying to make sense of the assorted and incomplete sounds he or she is hearing and turn these sounds into a word or phrase that makes sense in the context of the conversation. Not easy, especially since the conversation does not pause while you are doing this extra processing. Read more about this here. […]

  20. I totally agree with the previous comments! Yep! My brother, also D/HH, wears a ComPilot all the time to help him hear during project meetings in his position as a petroleum engineer, or in noisy situations. I would love to get my hands on a Roger pen, and try it out especially in noisy situations. Technology is amazing, and continues to grow and develop.

  21. Wow, I never realized that my afternoon coma could be from the hearing loss. 3 years after being diagnosed with an Acoustic Neuroma and having 25 radiation treatments to hopefully save as much hearing in the affected ear as possible (I was already deaf in the non-affected ear), I just tested at 20% in my neuroma ear. I do wear 2 hearing aids, as in my “deaf” ear, I have a very narrow band of hearing, but only with the aid. 2 years after the radiation treatmemts, I was diagnosed with Trigeminal Neuralgia which is well controlled with Tegretol. But it also gives me what I call the “sleepy/stupids”. But maybe I should be blaming part of the “sleepy” on the hearing loss exhaustion.

    I too find group situations to be almost impossible to deal with. And going out to eat is ok, but not not so fun for my husband if we don’t have others with us. My audiologist says I have “phenomenal” lip reading skills, probably due to the many years of dealing with the loss of hearing in my non-neuroma ear.

    What I also find exhausting is TV as I have to use closed captioning and reading plus keeping up with what is going on with the picture can mulberry overwhelming. So I read or crochet instead except for very specific programs. And baseball, although who needs to listen to those commentators anywhy. And the closed captioning gets in the way of the game ;).

  22. […] 7. Take a break: Don’t be shy about taking a break from the action for a few minutes to give your ears and brain a rest. Head to the restroom, or find a quiet spot inside to sit for a few minutes. It really helps me to clear my head and build up some energy for another round of socializing. You can read more about hearing loss exhaustion here. […]

  23. […] 7. Take a break: Don’t be shy about taking a break from the action for a few minutes to give your ears and brain a rest. Head to the restroom, or find a quiet spot inside to sit for a few minutes. It really helps me to clear my head and build up some energy for another round of socializing. You can read more about hearing loss exhaustion here. […]

  24. […] 7. Take a break: Don’t be shy about taking a break from the action for a few minutes to give your ears and brain a rest. Head to the restroom, or find a quiet spot inside to sit for a few minutes. It really helps me to clear my head and build up some energy for another round of socializing. You can read more about hearing loss exhaustion here. […]

  25. I get this! I have moderate to severe hearing loss and wear hearing aids, mostly when I am at work. In the type of situation you describe it is so difficult – I tend to skip the hearing aids when I will be in a crowd because the crowd noises are overwhelming (even with the lowest setting). But if I go without the hearing aids, I cannot hear the person, especially if it is someone I don’t know who speaks softly. It is stressful. I end up pretending I hear them and then if I don’t get it right, I get that blank, huh? look, or that silent “are you stupid?” look when I don’t respond at all to something when I should have. The stress is exhausting, not to mention the actual loud noise if you leave the hearing aids in. I tend to avoid these situations as much as I can.

  26. Don’t feel isolated and don’t exhaust yourself.
    Be up front about your hearing loss.
    It IS exhausting, being in a crowded room, which just sounds like a lot of gibberish noise.
    For as long as you DO stay in the room with noisy people, at least wear a button, or show them a note that says, “I can’t hear you unless you look at me.”
    Let them know that you are DEAF. Normal hearing people do NOT understand HOH (hard of hearing).
    They are black/white thinkers.
    Telling communication partners that you are DEAF, just cuts right to the chase.
    If people know that you are DEAF, they will more likely accommodate your need to hear….like, perhaps by moving to a quieter area, by slowing their rate of speech, etc.
    Don’t HIDE your hearing loss…it hurts you and it makes others think you are anti-social.
    Take it from one who is VERY HOH and who worked as a speech pathologist for over 20 years, until it became impossible to perform my duties any longer.

  27. Back in April of 2015, I had written the following:

    “In noisy situations, I have long used an assistive listening device or system with a directional microphone, pointing it at the mouth of the person speaking. This helps tremendously to improve the signal to noise ratio and decreases the effort required to understand speech. Every person who has significant trouble understanding speech in noise would benefit greatly by owning such a device. The audiologist can help you learn more about such options, though the best way is to go to an annual HLAA convention’s exhibit hall, where you can try different ones from different vendors.

    “For more info about HLAA, go to”

    For me, the use of an ALD that has a *directional* setting or microphone is invaluable. The closer the microphone is held to the sound you want to hear, the better you hear the sound. I really think that using something like this would have helped Shari a great deal in the situation she described. She could have asked whoever she was talking to hold the microphone (or the device with a built-in microphone), pointing the mike right at but under their lips.

    The Roger Pen can provide this kind of effect, too, although I think it needs to be held upright in order to become and stay directional.

    Have any of you tried assistive listening technology that had a directional setting, directional microphone, or close-talking microphone? Please do try this out if you haven’t already done so. You can also use an omnidirectional microphone but try to lower the volume to the microphone if possible to make it *less* sensitive to background noise, and use the mike close to the source of the desired sound. The closer the omnidirectional mike is, the more clear the audio will be, unless it’s too close (like within 3 inches) as that might cause distortion (and inadvertent munching of the microphone!).

  28. Just joined. I can totally relate to the exhaustion. I am routinely invited to group lunches or after work meets. I finally stopped gong to the group lunches. The after work meets are usually at restaurants. People just don’t get how exhausting it can be trying to follow the conversations of 4 other people in a noisy situation, especially when there are multiple voices going at once. I usually go home from these totally exhausted and with a headache.

    My co-workers don’t understand how I do my part time job as an usher at the local venues. The difference is I look at a ticket, show people to their seats, answer questions that are directed at me, and then once the event starts, like a concert, I just enjoy the music. I don’t follow the words to the songs, unless it is a song I know well and I do turn my hearing aids down.

    • Welcome Kate! The exhaustion is very real. I wonder if you could get your lunch mates to help out a bit — picking a quieter place or ordering in instead or even agreeing to talk one at a time. I would hate for you to miss out entirely. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  29. I wonder if hearing people believe those who call themselves Hard of Hearing are still defeating themselves by using the word Hard. I wonder if Lack of Hearing would be more suitable. Just a thought.

  30. […] Imagine a game board from the Wheel of Fortune. Some of the letters are filled in; others are blank. This is what a person with hearing loss hears. Then they must combine these assorted and incomplete sounds with lipreading cues and what they know about the topic being discussed to create words and phrases that make sense in the context of the conversation. It takes a lot of brain power and can be exhausting. […]

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