Face Masks and the Hard of Hearing

How Face Masks Have Affected the Hearing Loss Community

by | Jul 15, 2020 | Covid-19, Latest News, News, Patient Resources

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, facial coverings and masks have been implemented across the country. With the CDC determining that they help minimize the spread of the virus, more and more people are continuing to use them. Unfortunately, there are groups in the population who struggle with communication due to the use of face masks. The hearing loss community is one such group.

Reading Lips

Those with a hearing loss can communicate and interact with others because they have learned to read lips or decipher context through micro-expressions and facial cues. This ability has allowed them to communicate without any issues.

The extensive use of face masks has impeded this ability, making it much more challenging to communicate, isolating a large group of people i.e., 466 million people globally, 34 million of whom are children, according to the WHO.

Seeing lip patterns and facial expressions are also vital for those who communicate through American Sign Language, and it is incredibly challenging to sign without touching your face.

Muffled Sounds & Words

Muffled speech is another side effect of wearing a face mask. Words that sound similar but have different meanings can become challenging to distinguish. And sound can be reduced by up to 15 decibels! – Making an impossible situation even worse.

Patients currently in hospital, are often unable to hear, lip read, or read facial expressions of medical professionals wearing facemasks. In the UK, this very scenario inspired NHS anesthetist, Dr. Rachel Grimaldi, to design a series of digital flashcards (CARDMEDIC) to address these problems by transferring vital information to patients with hearing loss. These are free for anyone to use and are available in 10 languages.

Attempting To Communicate At A Distance

Because of social distancing measures, some sounds are no longer audible due to proximity, even in a space where the background noise is silent or low. Passing written notes back and forth are also no longer viable options. The Deaf/Hard of Hearing Technology Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center has created a comprehensive list of technology tools, like apps, to aid communication.

How To Improve Communication

There are some ways that we all can work together to improve communication. 

  1. Wear your hearing aid. – Without your hearing aid, it will be incredibly challenging to get by, make sure it is properly adjusted (we can help you with that), and if you have older devices, ask if you’re in an area/building with a hearing loop.
  2. Wear and encourage others to wear masks with a transparent window or a face shield. – Ashely Lawrence, from Woodford County, Kentucky, designed a very simple facemask with a clear plastic window that allows the mouth to be seen when communicating. Simple yet very useful and free for anyone who needs one.
  3. Avoid/reduce background noise.
  4. Speak slowly and clearly and raise your average volume (without shouting).
  5. Carry cue cards that convey your basic needs ahead of time.
  6. Use technology like voice-to-text apps.

How We Can Help

If you or a loved one has found it particularly difficult to hear people wearing face masks, contact us today to schedule a comprehensive hearing assessment. 

We are open for in-person appointments with strict hygiene protocols and pre-screening. Alternatively, we can see patients via video call, from the comfort of your own home, through our Virtual Audicles Service.

If you require further assistance, please call us at 210-820-0525.

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Dr. Tracy Board Doctor of Audiology

Dr. Board began her career in audiology after completing her undergraduate degree at The University of Texas at Austin and the doctoral program at The University of Texas at Dallas. She has been fortunate to work in a plethora of healthcare and educational settings. As a result, she has perfected the art of effective adult and pediatric treatment. When she is not at the clinic, Dr. Board works directly with her state and national organizations to not only improve the quality of audiological healthcare in Texas, but also to advocate for her patients.