Why People With A Hearing Loss Struggle With Face Masks

09/15/2021 | News, Patient Resources

COVID-19 has forced the entire world to face challenges that we never thought we’d have to face in our lifetimes. To assist in halting the spread, many states across the country have made it mandatory to wear a face mask while out in public. This also translates to specific masking rules in audiology and in hearing healthcare settings. 

While wearing a mask may have some benefit in reducing the spread of COVID-19, it has created another obstacle for people who suffer from hearing loss. 

Here in La Grande, Oregon, many of our patients have been affected by this first-hand.

How Masking Rules In Audiology Make Communication Difficult

According to Hearing Loss.org, there are around 48 million people in America who suffer from hearing loss. Many people who suffer from some level of hearing loss rely on lip-reading and facial cues to communicate with others when out in public. Now that almost everyone’s face is covered, it isn’t easy to understand the majority of people.

Face masks tend to muffle a person’s voice, which means that a person with even a slight hearing loss may have to get closer to the person they are talking to in order to hear. This proximity to others could pose a significant risk to their health. 

Many hospitals have implemented new rules requiring every patient to wear a face mask and come into the emergency room by themselves. A patient with a hearing loss will not only have difficulty understanding what the doctor is saying to them, but they will also not be able to have a friend or family member with them who could act as their interpreter. In the UK, this very scenario inspired NHS anesthetist, Dr. Rachel Grimaldi, to design a series of digital flashcards (CARDMEDIC), which transfers vital information to patients with hearing loss. 

Possible Solutions To Help People With A Hearing Loss

We have seen a lot of innovation during the pandemic, and one very innovative solution for improving communication came from a young student from Woodford County, Kentucky. Ashley Lawrence, studying education for the deaf and hard of hearing, saw that traditional face masks posed a problem for people with hearing loss and those who communicate with ASL. 

“I felt like there was a huge population that was being looked over,” Lawrence said. “So, I felt like it was very important that, even at a time like this, people need to have that communication.” Ashely designed a very simple face mask with a clear plastic window that allows sightline to the mouth when communicating. Simple yet very useful and free for anyone who needs one.

A face shield is another option that doesn’t stifle sound and keeps the face visible. However, because most people find it easier to make their masks from spare cloth they have in their home, fewer people are likely to wear a face shield regularly.

How You Can Help Others

There are a few things that you can do to make communication easier for those with hearing loss. Try to speak clearly and loudly (without shouting). If possible, try to talk with the person in a quiet area that does not have a lot of background noise. You can also write what you are going to say on a piece of paper or use your cell phone or tablet. (Though with social distancing measures in force, the latter may be more appropriate.) The Deaf/Hard of Hearing Technology Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center has created a comprehensive list of technology tools to aid in communication during this time.

Reach Out For Help

If you or your loved one have been struggling to hear others due to face masks, please feel free to contact us today. Scheduling a comprehensive assessment could help you make this difficult time a little more bearable. 

We have strict hygiene protocols for our in-person appointments and our fantastic Drive-In-Clinic service to maximize convenience. If you require further assistance, please call us at (541) 612-7555 or click here to schedule an Access Audiology consultation.

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Erika Shakespeare CCC-A

Erika Shakespeare, CCC-A, specializes in pediatric and adult diagnostics and amplification. Working with adults to help manage tinnitus and hearing loss since 2002, she is an expert in both of these areas. Additionally, she is a pediatric audiology mentor and educator for pediatric audiologists across the country and is one of the most respected experts on pediatric audiology.

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