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Understanding Cochlear Implants : How They Work and Dealing with Hearing Fatigue

What are Cochlear Implants?

Cochlear implants are used by people suffering from hearing loss to help them hear the sounds in their surroundings. Listening or hearing fatigue can occur as a result of all this sensory information.

Not many people realize, but it takes quite a bit of effort to listen. Hearing someone or something consists of a complex relationship between the brain and the ears, which many of us take for granted.(6) For individuals suffering from loss of hearing, the brain has to work extra hard to listen, even with the help of cochlear implants.

In this article we will talk about how cochlear implants work, how hearing fatigue occurs and how to reduce it.

What is Hearing or Listening Fatigue?

Hearing or listening something is an active act and requires a lot of mental energy to process the sounds by the brain.(6) When someone is suffering from hearing loss, then they require lot of effort in order to understand the sounds in their environment. Hearing fatigue occurs when the effort put into listening makes the person tired.(2, 3)

Do Cochlear Implants Cause Hearing Fatigue?

Cochlear implants help someone suffering from hearing loss in understanding the sounds which they couldn’t understand or hear before. With the help of these tools, the person can now hear and make out the different sounds and this kind of new sensory input can put strain on the brain.(2, 3)

For example, when someone first gets cochlear implants, the new sounds can be a distraction. There are various kinds of new sounds to be heard and processed on a daily basis now. All this takes up too much concentration to go through the different noises and to become adjusted to the new environment with sounds.

Additionally, individuals not experiencing typical hearing before, the auditory memory, where the verbal information in a conversation is stored, can also lead to hearing fatigue. Along with listening or hearing fatigue, an individual having cochlear implants can also experience disappointment, frustration and feel overwhelmed.

How do Cochlear Implants Help with Hearing?

Listening with the help of cochlear implants is a different experience when compared to the usual hearing. While the sounds are different to the usual hearing with the cochlear implants, they, however, allow people to hear everyday sounds, warning signals and speech in person, online or over the phone. Cochlear implants help in assembling the sounds from the environment and transmitting them as signals to the auditory nerve directly. This is when the brain is able to make out these signals as sound.

The sound generated with the help of these implants can be somewhat “machine-like.(4)” It may require various therapies to completely understand this kind of speech. This results in the person who is using cochlear implants to depend on other form of tools, such as visual cues, lip-reading etc., to complete the listening experience.

What are the Complications of Hearing Fatigue?

People suffering from hearing fatigue also have to deal with more stress. These problems can impact a person’s daily mood, life and performance at school or work.(5)

What Difficulties Do People With Cochlear Implants Face In Remote Meetings?

For people using cochlear implants, remote or online meetings are challenging. Live captions can help in such conditions; however, they need not be always available. Some of the problems faced in such scenarios are:

  • With background noise in the video, it is difficult to understand who the primary speaker is.
  • If there is poor video and audio quality, then it makes it difficult to read lips or understand other cues in conversation.
  • In case of rapid conversation, there may be overlapping of conversations or people can move from one topic to the other very fast which can be difficult for someone with cochlear implants to follow.
  • When all these issues occur together, it can makes virtual meetings difficult to understand along with extremely tiring to listen.

How to Manage Hearing Fatigue?

With time and experience, one understands what works best when it comes to managing hearing fatigue. Some of the things which can be done to help with hearing fatigue are:

Cut it down: Decrease the background noise in the environment, such as the air conditioner or dishwasher etc. to focus better on the sounds.

Take time outs for yourself: Take out a fixed time for yourself as a quiet time where you can relax or read instead of listening to anything, such as watching television.

Concentrate on acoustics: Fatigue can be worse in open spaces with tall ceilings. It is better to opt for small rooms with a closed door to cut down the distractions.

Use your other senses: Try to incorporate visuals to decrease the auditory load.

How to Improve Hearing Fatigue in Virtual Meetings?

Some of the ways to improve the experience in virtual meetings are:

  • Request them to use “active speaker” mode so the primary speaker is the main face on the screen.
  • Ask anyone who is not an active speaker to mute themselves.
  • Enlighten the participants that lighting matters a lot when it comes to helping with visual cues in the meeting.
  • Request the participants to make use of a microphone so they can be heard clearly.
  • Make use of the text chat button when needed.

What is the Difference Between Hearing Aids and Cochlear Implants?

Cochlear implants are for individuals suffering from acute hearing loss where the hearing aids are no longer of any use to them. Hearing aids are for individuals having mild to severe loss of hearing.(7)

In hearing aids, there is amplification of the sound before it travels to the hair cells within the inner ear. This sound is then converted to signals, which is then processed by the auditory nerve. Cochlear implants detour the ear and transform the sounds into energy, which then goes to the auditory nerve directly.(7)

Who Needs Cochlear Implants?

Young children and adults with previous normal hearing, benefit the most from cochlear implants. People with congenital deafness and who do not receive any implants till later age have more difficulty in adapting to the implants.

Conclusion

It can be really exhausting hearing the different sounds which occur in daily life, more so with cochlear implants. However, you can manage this by managing the things in the environment that are within your control. Always take breaks when needed and inform the people you are with about your hearing fatigue and do not hesitate to seek help and support in any form.

References:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:December 18, 2023

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