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Hearing Loss & Face Masks
By Rebecca Sherman, Au.D., F-AAA
In the midst of the current COVID-19 pandemic communication may be more important than ever. The combination of social distancing and quarantine has left many people feeling isolated. For those with hearing loss, that isolation may be amplified. Some individuals with hearing loss rely on lip reading and facial expressions to help understand a conversation, while others are unable to hear conversations from a distance. When conversing in person, necessary face masks remove the option of lip reading and result in muffled speech. These adverse effects can make communicating with a hearing loss increasingly more difficult in an already stressful time. Below are some suggestions to help ease communication barriers and keep those with hearing loss from feeling increased effects of isolation.
Video chatting provides a great alternative to trying to socialize from a safe distance of 6 feet apart. Those with hearing loss can increase the volume on their devices to a comfortable level to understand their loved ones. Video chatting also eliminates the problem of speech muffled by masks. This option allows those with hearing loss to read lips and facial cues to help understand a conversation and is much more personal than a telephone call.
When socializing in person is necessary, it may be useful to obtain or make a mask with a clear plastic section in the middle so that those with hearing loss are still able to read lips and facial cues. Important tips for communicating with someone with a hearing loss in public while wearing a mask include: speaking clearly and enunciating words, facing the individual, and minimizing background noise as much as possible. Those with hearing loss should advocate for these conversation adjustments to ensure they can hear others as clearly as possible.
When individuals with hearing loss go out in public there are additional difficulties that occur when wearing a mask. First, many masks use ear loops that may interfere with the placement of behind-the-ear hearing aids. Using a mask with ties that go behind the head or utilizing a mask loop extender are two great alternatives to an ear loop mask. Additionally, you can sew buttons onto a head band, and use the buttons to secure the ear loops of a mask.
Those with hearing aids need to use extra caution when taking off their masks, especially if using one with ear loops. It is easy for hearing aids to come loose or fall off when removing a mask. Individuals with hearing aids should take off their masks slowly, and may even consider taking out their hearing aids first to avoid them falling off and getting lost. Masks and hearing aids should only be removed at home to avoid an increased risk of losing them. Taking out hearing aids in the car or public spaces poses an increased risk of loss. As an extra precaution against losing hearing aids, individuals can purchase hearing aid clothing clips online. These clips attach to hearing aids and the back of the shirt, so that in the even that your hearing aids fall off they will not get lost. These clips ensure that hearing aids will remain attached to clothing, rather than falling onto the floor.
As everyone continues to adjust to the “new normal” it’s important to remember the additional communication difficulties facing those with hearing loss. With some simple adjustments ease of communication can be increased, and odds of losing hearing aids can be decreased. By working together we can hopefully continue to push through these challenging times and remember that we are not alone.