In the midst of the ongoing pandemic, face masks seem to be the hot-button topic of the year.
Beyond the scientific, political, and health-oriented discussions, face masks create some real issues for those who suffer from hearing loss.
Yes! Face masks are a critical component of our collective health strategy amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. However, mask-wearing does have a measurable impact on our ability to communicate, and that can spell problems for those with hearing issues.
Over the past few months, I’ve found that most of my patients mask-related hearing issues boil down to three distinct problems:
- Masks make it difficult to read lips, something that many people who struggle with hearing loss intrinsically master over the years.
- The loops on masks can knock out hearing aids.
- Face masks reduce the volume of people’s voices — which are even further reduced with social distancing.
In fact, the AARP suggests that masks reduce volumes by 4 to 12 decibels.
So, today, I want to discuss some tips to help you navigate this brave new world of masks and social distancing.
We should all be doing our part in the COVID-19 fight, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t talk about the genuine hurdles of mask-wearing.
4 Tips for Communicating While Wearing a Mask
1. Adjust Your Hearing Aids
If you wear hearing aids, you should consider adjusting them during this period of heavy mask usage. A few modern hearing aids have already released “mask modes” on their apps.
However, if your hearing aid hasn’t, we recommend getting in touch with a hearing professional. Simply turning up the volume won’t solve your problem. You likely need an adjustment on the mid/high-level pitches.
A recent study suggests that the primary reason masks make it so difficult to hear others is that medical-grade masks (e.g., N95, etc.) reduce higher frequency sounds like “th” or “sh” — which are critical to everyday speech.
This requires some semi-complex tinkering, and it’s probably best to leave this one to the pros — unless your hearing aid manufacturer has given you specific instructions.
2. Carefully Remove Your Mask or Consider Upgrading your Devices
Almost every patient I talk to with a Behind-the-Ear (BTE) hearing aid struggles with removing their mask. The loops that go around the ear often catch the plastic casing that rests behind the ear.
Since that’s where BTE hearing aids store most of the tech, it’s often the heaviest and bulkiest part of the hearing aid.
I would recommend that anyone currently using BTE hearing aids talk to their hearing professional to discuss the various In-the-Canal options available to them (hint: here’s a list of hearing aid types).
Otherwise, try to practice removing your mask carefully. You want to pull the mask loops backward, outwards, and then forwards.
The goal is to slowly bypass that behind-the-ear plastic piece. Alternatively, consider purchasing a mask that uses head straps or other forms of support.
3. Consider Transcription Apps
You can pull one of these apps out when you’re out-and-about and read the text while talking to another person.
In fact, many of these tools are already updating their back-end software to better understand masked speech.
4. Purchase Clear-windowed Masks for Family and Friends
I have everyone at my practice wear clear-window masks. These are face masks that use clear material over the mouth.
This makes it possible for those who struggle with hearing issues to lip-read. Obviously, these were in short supply at the beginning of the pandemic.
But there are now plenty of manufacturers offering these clear masks for a reasonable price. I would recommend investing in a few for your closest friends and family.
This makes it much easier to communicate effectively — since most of us intrinsically read lips to fill in any communication blanks.
We’re Here For You
Here at Hearing Associates Northridge, we’re here to help you navigate this crazy new world.
If you or a loved one is having difficulty communicating while wearing a mask, please contact our team to see how we can help.
From adjusting hearing aids to providing in-the-canal aids or conducting hearing assessments, our team is on standby to ensure that you can communicate effectively during this pandemic.