Face masks may be the new normal this year, but some of us are definitely having a harder time than others. When facial expressions disappear under a mask and lipreading becomes impossible, those with hearing loss definitely face greater communication challenges. In addition to these hurdles, masks also reduce the volume and clarity of speech! So, what can be done when face masks interfere with your hearing?
Why Face Masks Can Affect Our Hearing
You’ve probably seen a variety of face mask fabrics and styles out there, and while they help contain the spread, they don’t do our ears any favors. In fact, Eryn Staats, audiology manager in the department of otolaryngology at the Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, says that masks can reduce our speech volume by 4 to 12 decibels, depending on the material.
In addition to muffling our speech, covering our mouths makes it impossible to read lips and fill in any necessary blanks. But thankfully, there may be a few things that you (and others) can do to make this pandemic a little easier on the ears.
What You Can Do If You Can’t Hear Someone
Keep your interactions short and have a strategy
This will increase your comprehension and help you reserve your energy for other situations. For example, do you feel the most frustrated when you’re at the grocery store and you cannot hear the cashier? Order your groceries online ahead of time and pick them up! Need to make a return at a retail location but have questions? Email or call ahead of time and ask your questions. If you currently wear hearing aids, make sure the batteries are new and your hearing aids are in tip-top shape.
Consider audio-enhancing apps
There are plenty of smartphone apps out there that can help facilitate communication. Speech-to-text apps like Google Live Transcribe (Android), Otter, and Ava can help amplify speech. However, sometimes it can also amplify the noise around the speech, so keep that in mind.
Let the person know
When face masks interfere with your hearing, simply tell the person to speak louder, slower, and in a lower tone. Keep in mind that face masks have been an adjustment for everyone! Do not ask them to remove their face masks — this places the person in an uncomfortable and potentially risky situation.
Give yourself a break!
It’s been a challenging year. Don’t beat yourself up or get frustrated if you can’t hear someone! Reach out to family and friends and let them know that you’re having trouble hearing them at times so they can make adjustments. Just be sure to be as flexible and gentle with yourself (and others) as possible.
What You Can Do If Someone Can’t Hear You
This seems pretty obvious, but you may want to get into the habit of always speaking louder when you have your mask on. This will save you time from repeating yourself and also makes it easier for those that may be too embarrassed to ask you to speak louder.
When you’re communicating with someone with hearing loss, be patient with them. Never become exasperated or tell them nevermind. There’s a strong chance that the situation is just as frustrating and even anxiety-provoking for them. If it helps, type something out on your phone if they still cannot hear you.
Opt for a mask with a clear mouth panel
If you frequently interact with people with hearing loss, it may be wise to opt for a face mask with a clear panel over your lips. You will still have to speak up, but being able to see your lips move may be helpful. Thankfully there are plenty of styles out there for you to try. Don’t resort to simply wearing a clear face shield, though. The CDC does not recommend wearing them for everyday activities or as a substitute for cloth face coverings. However, if you decide to wear one without a mask, they should wrap around the sides of your face and extend to below the chin, per the CDC.
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