How Wearing a Mask for COVID-19 Affects Your Hearing
Though previously limited to hospital settings, the use of face masks became widespread during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is for good reason – wearing a mask is among the best ways to protect the health of yourself and those around you. Unfortunately, mask use introduces new challenges for people with hearing loss. Find out why masks have such an impact on hearing and how you can overcome these difficulties without compromising COVID-19 mask safety.
Muffled Speech and Distancing
When a mask is placed over the mouth, it reduces the volume and level of speech that is transmitted. Words are softer, less clear, and more difficult to understand. This is true for anyone but especially difficult for individuals who already have hearing challenges. This problem is only exacerbated by social distancing. Not only are voices muffled by the fabric of masks, but people must also keep a safe distance, making it even more difficult to understand a conversation.
Trouble with Lip Reading and Seeing Facial Expressions
COVID-19 masks also prevent lip reading. Many individuals with hearing difficulties rely on reading lips to support their comprehension of spoken words. Facial expressions are also helpful cues for deducing context and meaning when the words themselves are lost. Unfortunately, face masks eliminate this visual information that would otherwise improve communication.
Hearing Aid Interference
Masks often interfere with hearing aids and may make wearing a device uncomfortable. Putting on and removing a mask may also alter the hearing aids’ position, knocking them out of place. At the very least, this reduces the aid’s effectiveness, but in the worst cases, the device may fall out entirely. This opens a risk for lost hearing aids or damaged hardware.
Tips for Conversing with COVID-19 Masks
Many communication problems can be mitigated if everyone in the conversation makes an effort to accommodate the individual with hearing loss. Here are a few ways to do so:
- Keep background noise – like side conversations, crowds, music, and televisions – to a minimum.
- Make an effort to speak slowly, use a normal volume, and enunciate words clearly.
- Be willing to restate or rephrase your remarks if they are not understood.
- Maintain direct eye contact while conversing.
- Prioritize one-on-one conversations over large group settings.
Tips for Using Hearing Aids with Masks
Fortunately, there are ways of overcoming hearing aid challenges when wearing masks as well. If you are concerned about hearing aid ineffectiveness or damage, here are some tips to reduce this risk and improve your experience:
- Try using mask holders that extend around the back of the head, holding the elastic away from your ears to prevent entanglements. Many people also find them more comfortable.
- Use fabric ties that can be loosened, unlike elastic. This allows more room for your hearing aid hardware.
- If you put on or remove your mask carefully and slowly, there is less risk that hearing aids will be pulled out of position.
- Many hearing aid manufacturers now offer face mask mode, which adjusts your settings to account for face masks and can be controlled through smartphone apps.
Reach Out to Your Hearing Health Provider
For more help and advice, reach out to a hearing specialist. The Hearing Group in West Orange, New Jersey, is dedicated to finding solutions for patients with hearing loss during the pandemic. We will work with you to identify your key challenges and find a solution that improves communication without sacrificing COVID-19 mask safety. To learn more, contact us today.