It’s fairly well known and accepted that many people in our generation have hearing issues like tinnitus or a slight loss, likely the result of late nights blasting the stereo, endless live concerts and the introduction of mobile music players (anyone remember their first Walkman!). In fact, hearing problems on one of the top ten public health disorders and are believed to affect about a third of the general population. Coupled with aging, diseases such as diabetes, mental health issues or heart disease and the environment, and it’s possible that we don’t stand a chance against auditory dissonance. Or do we?
Researchers say that men are more prone to hearing issues than women. That is, until exhaustion sets in. Yup, exhaustion evidently makes women oversensitized to sound when they are exposed to stressful situations.
Stress plus exhaustion leads to hypersensitive hearing, that is, an acute reaction to sounds that would normally not bother us. In fact, when men and women were evaluated for their degree of emotional exhaustion and then exposed to an acute stress situation, the women became oversensitized, reacting to sounds at normal conversational levels (i.e. 60 decibles). In particular case, emotional exhausted was rated on a scale of one to five and entailed things like feeling drained by work or totally exhausted after the workday is completed or burned out . The acute stress situations only lasted five minutes. And, hearing was measured before and after the exercise.
So, what about the gender differences? Importantly, researchers say that women, namely postmenopausal women, have accelerated hearing loss (oh, joy!) that is related to sex hormones. Add emotional exhaustion and stress to the mix, and we overreact to things that would normally not bother us. It’s not rocket science but it’s good to know that stress hormones and sex hormones together contribute to somewhat irrational behavior, you know, the type related to experiencing conversation, a rattling of cutlery or the sound of a car engine that causes a woman to go off her rocker a bit and even experience that sound as painful. And while the mechanisms are not quite understood, the message is clear – if you are exhausted, you may be ripe for an overreaction of the audible type.