We have been dealing with COVID-19 for seven months now. Since people have started venturing out more and more, many are wearing face masks as mandated. We know that they can be uncomfortable, inconvenient, or hot, especially now it’s mid-summer. However, for those with a hearing loss, these problems are just the tip of the iceberg. Let’s look at some of those issues below.
Muffled speech is a side effect of wearing a facemask. Words that sound similar but have different meanings can become challenging to tell apart. And sound can be reduced by up to 15 decibels, which is about as loud as a whisper, so if you are already speaking softly, you will be almost impossible to hear!
Patients currently in hospital, are often unable to hear, lip read, or read facial expressions of medical professionals wearing facemasks. In the UK, this very scenario inspired NHS anesthetist, Dr. Rachel Grimaldi, to design a series of digital flashcards (CARDMEDIC) to address this by transferring vital information to patients with hearing loss. These are free for anyone to use and are available in 10 languages.
People who may already be sensitive about their hearing loss might be embarrassed about asking friends, family, and employees to speak up or repeat themselves when a face mask obscures their speech.
Inability to Read Lips
Many with a hearing loss have taught themselves to read lips, especially if it’s a condition that they have had since birth. We are all, by default, able to gain meaning from micro-expressions and facial cues. It is one of the significant factors in learning how to communicate as a child and learn to recognize emotional cues; happy, sad, angry, etc. This ability to interpret these cues carries throughout our lives.
It is not surprising then that wearing a facemask suppresses these cues and, as a result, creates anxiety when communicating.
With an obscured face, it is almost impossible to get the gist of a conversation if you cant hear all the words. Even ASL is difficult to understand with a mask on as it hides a crucial part of the language, the lip-movements, and it is challenging to communicate with ASL without touching your face!
We have seen a lot of innovation during the pandemic, and one very innovative solution 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 a 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.”
Ashley designed a very simple face mask with a transparent window that allows the mouth to be seen. Simple yet very useful and free except for postage.
Although it may not be possible for healthcare providers to use these masks, they can be handy for friends and family to wear when visiting.
Problems With Wearing a Mask & Hearing Aid at the Same Time
It can be quite cumbersome for some people to wear over the ear face masks with their hearing aids and it sometimes results in lost or damaged hearing aids as they get caught and fall out.
Fortunately, wearing a mask that can go around the back of the head or that comes up from the neck can help make it much more convenient.
We Can Help
If you or a loved one has been struggling or complaining that others are mumbling, you can schedule a comprehensive hearing assessment.
For appointments or support, please feel free to call us at (410) 266-6444. We are here to help.