Believed to reduce the transmission rates of SARS-Cov-2, which is responsible for the coronavirus pandemic, face masks are now mandatory in public spaces. However, for people struggling with hearing loss, this might be easier said than done.

This is because masks cover a substantial part of the face, posing extra communication challenges to individuals that are hard of hearing. In essence;

  • It is harder to decipher what a person wearing a mask is saying.
  • For people relying on hearing aids, the masks’ ear loops tag on their hearing aids, furthering the difficulties in wearing them effectively.

Notably, individuals wearing hearing aids are compelled to determine ways to wear their masks while keeping their hearing aids in place. The struggle is worse for individuals dependent on both hearing aids and spectacles. To them, it is a continuous challenge.

Read on to learn more about the challenges and ramifications of the public use of face masks.

Face Mask Challenges to the Hard of Hearing

The Knox County Board of Health approved the “COVID-19 Face Covering Regulation”, a mandate that went into effect for select indoor public spaces on Friday, July 3.

The CDC also advises people to wear cloth coverings in public spaces and when around people from other households, especially when it is difficult to observe other social distancing measures.

Although face masks help lessen the coronavirus transmission rate, they are posing new problems to the deaf and hard of hearing.

While the public use of face masks is now a controversial topic, it is evident that the deaf and hard of hearing are struggling to adapt to the new normal.

The Unexpected Consequences of Wearing Face Masks

Wearing face masks in public impairs some people’s communicative ability. This is because the masks prevent lip-reading. Also, they muffle the sound leaving the mouth, hence reducing the effectiveness of auditory information received.

The prevention of lip-reading, which is a crucial visual cue, makes communication more challenging due to the mental effort needed to listen, especially in noisy settings.  Therefore, even if an individual listens keenly, the face mask prevents lip-reading, which impairs communication.

The increased exertion to listen and communicate effectively is intensified among individuals battling hearing loss. As the WHO reports, the world has approximately 466 million people who have a hearing loss.  Although most of these people can lead meaningful lives, the widespread advocating for the public use of face masks is exacerbating their communication problems.

To safely bring back visual cues while wearing masks, the use of transparent surgical masks or transparent face shields instead of the conventional masks is highly touted. However, the broader public is yet to adopt the practice.

Key Takeaway

The widespread public use of face masks subjects a significant proportion of society to mask misery. This exposes more people, especially the elderly, to varied negative factors like reduced quality of life, higher risk of dementia, depression and anxiety, isolation, poor social interactions, and diminished quality of life.

Advice for the Hard of Hearing

Even if you suffer hearing loss, you can do the following to improve your communication with mask-wearers:

  • Move to a less noisy environment or reduce background noise.
  • Request the speaker to talk gently and slowly.
  • Wear your hearing aid.

If you wear hearing aids and are compelled to wear a face mask;

  • Always remember to remove the mask carefully to avoid accidentally yanking out your hearing aids.
  • Prioritize fabric ties because they work better than elastic ear loops.
  • Use a mask holder to prevent the ear loops from interfering with your ear loops.

At Physicians Hearing Care, your hearing and safety are always our priority. Our team of audiology experts specializes in hearing loss and partners with East Tennessee’s top ENT doctors.

Contact us today if you or a loved one has been struggling during these times, we are here for you.

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Dr. Kalyn Bradford Au.D.

Dr. Kalyn Bradford is the director of hearing aid services here at Physician's Hearing Care. She completed her externship with Physician's Hearing Care in 2013 and subsequently joined the practice in 2014 after graduating with her doctoral degree in audiology from Louisiana Tech University. She joined PHC as a clinical audiologist, where she performed comprehensive audiological exams and specialized in helping patients to hear better using the latest hearing aid technology available. She has carried that experience into her current role as director of hearing aid services, where she does an excellent job managing the audiologists to ensure that all patients are treated with the best hearing care possible.