March 2022. – 5 Tips for Working Professionals with Hearing Loss

Help America Hear

It’s not uncommon today to have hearing loss. A more acknowledge disability in recent years, hearing loss in the working world has inspired some great innovations and updates such as automated captions on meeting software like Teams and Zoom. It’s also helped create transparency and conversation around working styles, communication needs and where individuals with hearing loss can lend a beneficially unique perspective and skill set.

But, for those who are the individuals with the hearing loss – a normal work environment can be strenuous.  Jobs that require daily meetings, national and international phone calls, numerous conversations during the day, and ongoing focus and concentration, uses up a lot of cognitive energy. It’s probably not too far-fetched to say that people with hearing loss may know the need for afternoon naps more than most. Personally, I’m exhausted by 2 p.m. and am ready to be in silent mode for the rest of the day just to have a break and rest.

So how can us hard-of-hearing professionals tackle the work week without taking an afternoon siesta? Below are 5 tips to help you tackle your ear-induced energy drain during the week.

1. Set Aside Quiet Time

With hearing loss your brain works overtime to process all sounds, and it has to work even harder to focus on speech when distracting ambient noise is also present. This can be tiring for your system, and lead to physical exhausting and cognitive burn-out. One thing you can do to help reduce energy strain is to set aside some time on your calendar each day where you can work in a “quiet” environment. It doesn’t have to be completely silent, but it should be one in which sounds are reduced in a way that you can feel relaxed. Your brain should be able to calm down, slow down and not feel like it has to run a marathon to understand your environment. Mark your calendar for 1-2 hours of “quiet work time” where you set up your workspace wherever you feel your ears can catch a break and your brain can slow down. This could be outside in your backyard if you work from home, or maybe it’s reserving a meeting room for yourself each day so you can shut the door and hideaway a bit.

2. Use Caption-Friendly Software Whenever You Can

Captions are truly your new best friend. With meeting software like Zoom and Teams that both offer captions, you will have an easier time in meetings (especially those big department ones). The benefits of using captions in meeting or calls are many.

  1. Reduce risk of missing or misinterpreting words or phrases
  2. Ensure you don’t miss out on key milestones in a meeting or assigned tasks
  3. More easily identify a speaker
  4. Better understand what’s being said regardless of the frequency of a person’s voice
  5. Have a transcript to review later

If you don’t have access to one of these tools, or another that offers captions, talk with your HR department ASAP. Companies are required by law to provide all necessary tools and resources for employees with disabilities, and asking for captions is a little thing that can go a long way.

NOTE: If you take more calls on your phone, look at the app Innocaption. It will immediately transcribe all calls you take and keep them for you on your phone. This is great if much of your work is on-the-go or requires phone calls.

3. Take 15 Minute Exercise Breaks

When your ears and brain are “always on” – that’s when the fatigue sets in, along with a reduced ability to concentrate, reduced energy to complete tasks, and overall, increases in stress as your body works overtime. Another way to help combat auditory fatigue is to get yourself outside for a 15-minute walk. Go enjoy nature, get some fresh and get away from needing to focus on any specific sound. Just allow yourself to move, breath and embrace being “auditorily unfocused” for 15 minutes. Additionally, some outside time can help reduce stress, improve your concentration, increase Vitamin D levels which protect the neurons in the brain and reduce inflammation, and improve brain function.

4. Eliminate Excess Noise for Meetings or Conversations

This is the tip for that situation many know – “I can HEAR you but I cannot UNDERSTAND you.” At the crux of the hearing loss issue is that it’s not so much about volume but about perception. This situation is common for people with sloping high frequency hearing loss. Because sound waves are sent through the ears like code and then translated into meaning by the brain, when your brain is trying to (1) filter out multiple sounds and speech, and (2) simultaneously translate both, accuracy is often lost. And in truth, everything seems like it gets mixed up like a mess of sound. This is extremely frustrating and can make you want to just give up and check out.

When you’re at work, try to avoid this situation but eliminating excess noise around you for meetings or calls. There are a few ways to help do this.

Ways to help yourself hear better in meetings or calls

  • Take your calls or meetings in a secluded room (meeting room you can reserve if an office, or at-home, pick a dedicated space where you can shut the door and sound won’t bounce)
  • Try to pick spaces where surfaces are soft so sound waves get absorbed, like carpet or rugs. Some wooden flooring now has sound absorption features, but in general, opt for spaces that will help reduce echo.
  • If you use hearing aids and like how phone calls sound with them, try to always use them and set your devices to eliminate external sound.
  • If you have trouble with calls or voices on calls and don’t use hearing aids, or you do and don’t like how phone call sounds, try noise-cancelling headphones like AirPods or Beats. (Only do this if you can avoid using high volume levels, as doing so will cause further hearing damage.)
  • Ask others in the meeting to keep microphones muted unless they’re speaking. This helps reduce on-call background noise.

5. Drink Your Coffee Routinely 

Caffeine is present in a lot of early morning favored drinks – coffee and tea for example. And while there is still a need for further studies, in 2018 the study “Association of Coffee Consumption with Hearing and Tinnitus Based on a National Population-Based Survey” found interesting correlations between drinking coffee and unilateral hearing loss and bilateral hearing loss. The results are summarized from the Results section in the published study below.

“No significant correlation was detected between coffee consumption frequency and unilateral hearing loss across all age groups. No significant correlation was detected between bilateral hearing loss and coffee consumption frequency in the 19–39 and ≥65 years age groups. However, daily coffee consumption resulted in a significantly decreased risk of bilateral hearing loss in the 40–64 years age group, compared with the rare consumption group (adjusted odds ratio (aOR), 0.50; 95% confidence interval (CI), 0.33–0.78; p = 0.0021), whereas monthly or weekly consumers did not show a significant difference relative to rare consumers. In the 40–64 years age group, odds ratio of mild and moderate hearing loss in daily coffee consumers and mild hearing loss in weekly coffee consumers were significantly lower than those of rare coffee consumers (Table S7). In addition, as the frequency of coffee consumption increased there tended to be a decrease in bilateral hearing loss in the 40–64 years age group.” [1]

 

Find What Works For You 

Working with a hearing disability isn’t always easy, but it is possible. From environmental adjustments to advanced technologies and resources from HR, you can find what works best for you to make your professional life enjoyable and manageable.

[1] Lee SY, Jung G, Jang MJ, et al. Association of Coffee Consumption with Hearing and Tinnitus Based on a National Population-Based Survey. Nutrients. 2018;10(10):1429. Published 2018 Oct 4. doi:10.3390/nu10101429

[1] Lee SY, Jung G, Jang MJ, et al. Association of Coffee Consumption with Hearing and Tinnitus Based on a National Population-Based Survey. Nutrients. 2018;10(10):1429. Published 2018 Oct 4. doi:10.3390/nu10101429

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