Wearing masks has become the new normal to help combat the spread of COVID-19. Although masks serve a great collective purpose, they can pose difficulties for individuals struggling with untreated hearing loss. When you can no longer rely on reading people’s lips as they speak, communication begins to require extra effort. You may find yourself asking for sentence repetitions, putting in extra effort to listen, or even avoiding non-essential communication altogether, which can lead to agitation and personal frustration. Masks can reduce speech understanding and audibility. Simple medical masks can reduce audibility by 3 – 4 dB, and N95 masks by 12dB. Wearing a mask is unavoidable during these times but there are steps you can take to make your day to day communication a little easier.
General Tips For Non Hearing Aid Users:
- Let Others Know How They Can Accommodate You: Be comfortable with letting people know how they can communicate with you. Communicating with hearing loss is already a challenge, don’t make it any harder on yourself by shying others away from your needs. Tell the people around you that masks make it difficult to hear and suggest that they speak louder or enunciate their words. The people around you will be happy to accommodate you if they know it’ll result in communication clarity.
- Use Medical Grade See-Through Masks Made For Lip-reading: Optimize your use of masks by getting one that works for you. Be the first one to get a medical-grade see-through mask and encourage those in your close circle to do so as well. They are safe and effective tools that allow for reading lips and facial expressions. The rise of COVID-19 has increased the availability of these masks through online personal protection equipment (PPE) retailers.
- Increase Your Body Language Or Use Speak-To-Text Apps: Body language can’t replace speech but you can definitely incorporate it into your communication patterns to increase clarity. If you can’t read people’s lips anymore, make an effort to read their body language as they speak. Other great tools you can utilize our free speech-to-text apps. These can be extremely effective when frustrations reach an all-time high because they translate speech to text in real-time. You can use them with someone you have difficulty hearing or even when you would like to convey a message yourself.
Tips For Hearing Aid Users:
- Program Your Hearing Aids Differently: Masks have a deleterious effect on the acoustic properties of speech. Research has shown, depending on the type of mask, the high-frequency content of speech may be attenuated by as much as 12 dB, which may pose additional challenges to people with high-frequencies hearing loss. However, your hearing aid program usually comes with different settings to combat these challenges. Book an appointment to chat with your hearing provider and see how they can help you enhance your hearing aid performance.
- Use Hearing Aid Accessories For Challenging Environments: Hearing technology like Phonak Roger™ offers better communication over distance and face coverings. Roger microphones have been developed to reduce background noise and transmit the speaker’s voice directly to hearing aids. While maintaining 6 feet of social distance between one another, Roger technology helps patients to overcome the distance between each other by placing Roger on the table or desk, placing it around the speaker’s neck, or even clipped to their pocket.
Ultimately treating your hearing loss is the most effective way you can combat the frustrations caused by hearing loss and masks. Have your hearing tested by a local hearing provider and take the steps to correct it. If you already have hearing aids, make sure you are always wearing them! You can safely wear a mask and hearing aids at the same time, just make sure to gently remove your mask in a familiar area in case your aids come off!