Face masks have become the new normal. While many don’t mind wearing masks, many others find it inconvenient. For people with hearing loss, however, masks can create a significant barrier to effective communication.
Keep reading to learn how face masks make it more difficult for the deaf and hard of hearing to communicate and how you can help them more effectively communicate with them on.
Why Face Masks and Hearing Deficiencies Don't Mix
Many people with hearing loss use facial expressions and lip-reading to understand conversations. That's why face masks create issues for the deaf and hard of hearing. The mask covers the speaker's face, hiding cues a person with hearing loss may rely on when speaking with someone. A mask makes it more difficult for the listener to tell if someone is happy, angry, smiling, or frowning.
Additionally, a cloth face mask reduces a speaker's volume by about 5 decibels and makes it difficult to hear high-frequency sounds such as “s,” “f,” and “th." The problems may be exacerbated if a thicker, heavier type of mask is worn. N-95 masks, for example, reduce volume by about 12 decibels.
When combining lowered volume with social distancing and clear plastic shields found in many public places, it becomes even harder for individuals with hearing loss to participate in conversations.
Finally, face masks that loop behind the ears make it difficult to wear hearing aids. The hearing devices can become dislodged, or the mask loops interfere with the microphone's sound quality.
Fortunately, there are solutions that people with hearing loss can use to their advantage.
Face Masks for Hearing-Impaired Patients
Masks with clear plastic panels are available to help hard-of-hearing people read lips and see facial expressions. However, these masks also block high-frequency sounds. The plastic panels essentially reflect sounds back to the speaker instead of toward the conversation partner. Combining a clear face mask with an amplification system that utilizes a lapel microphone is a good solution to help someone with hearing loss.
Surgical masks and loosely woven cotton masks are ideal for sound. If you wear these style masks, you will still need to take steps to help ensure a deaf or hard-of-hearing person can understand what you're saying. These might include:
- Don't shout, but speak slowly and clearly
- Make eye contact while speaking
- Move to a quieter place and ask if the person can hear you
- If you're not understood, rephrase what you said using different words
- Don't talk while walking or looking away
- Don't talk over someone and take turns when speaking
Face Masks and Hearing Aids
People who wear hearing aids may find it challenging to wear a face mask. The ear loops often interfere with the hearing aids, causing distortion or even damage. Use a fabric tie or mask holder to take the pressure off the ears and prevent the mask from interfering with the hearing aid.
Additionally, some hearing aid manufacturers have developed new listening programs to account for face masks. These "face mask modes" are often available on smartphone apps, or an audiologist can help set the device to the right program.
Additional Help from e3 Diagnostics
e3 Diagnostics knows you want to keep patients safe while addressing their hearing concerns. If we can be of assistance with audiology testing equipment or instrument calibration, please don't hesitate to contact us.
About the Author
Adam is the Digital Marketing Coordinator at e3 Diagnostics. His interest in hearing healthcare is driven by his passion for music because he feels everyone should be able to clearly listen to Pet Sounds at least once in their life. In his free time, he enjoys playing video games, digging through record stores for classic vinyl, shooting hoops, and writing stories.