Hearing impairment and masks: 8 tips for better communication – Articles and videos, stars, health topics, physical rehabilitation


25 October 2021

Masking and social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic has created significant communication challenges for people with hearing loss.

According to Virginia Gural-Toth, AuD, CCC-A, head of audiology, tinnitus and balance programs at the Audiology Center at the JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute, masks and social distancing reduce the volume and clarity of speech and make it difficult for people with hearing loss to use other strategies that help understanding.

“The masking during the pandemic made hearing loss more noticeable,” said Dr Gural-Toth. “Masks filter high frequency vocal information, muffle sound and add to distortion.”

Dr Gural-Toth also said that with masks obstructing the face, people with hearing loss cannot use visual cues such as lip reading or facial expressions, which provides additional context which is an important part of the process. understanding speech.

“Due to the pandemic, people with diagnosed hearing loss may find it difficult to communicate with others wearing masks,” said Anne Eckert, AuD, executive director of rehabilitation at JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute. “For people with undiagnosed hearing loss, masking can bring the problem to the fore and motivate them to seek treatment. “

Correct diagnosis can prevent problems

While hearing loss can cause quality of life, communication and social problems, it can also have serious health and safety implications. Untreated hearing loss has been associated with cognitive decline and could cause problems with balance or hearing subtle sounds, such as wheezing caused by a gas or water leak.

This is why it is essential to seek help if you see the first signs of hearing loss.

“We may start to see more people coming for hearing tests due to masking during the pandemic,” said Dr Gural-Toth. “Contacting your primary care provider and requesting a referral to an audiologist is the first step. “

With guidance from doctoral-level audiologists, such as audiologists at the JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute, Dr Gural-Toth said patients can explore treatment options with hearing aids.

“Today’s hearing aids are very sophisticated and can reproduce sound crisp and clear,” said Dr Gural-Toth. “They’re also so small you can barely notice them, and the sooner you treat the hearing loss, the easier it is to adjust to the amplification.”

Masking for people who use hearing aids

If you wear a behind-the-ear hearing aid, using a mask with elastic straps that hook behind the ears may cause irritation and increase the risk of losing your hearing aid. And if you also wear glasses, it can be even more of a problem.

Here are some tips that can protect your hearing aids and ears:

  • Pull long hair into a bun and wrap the rubber bands around the bun.
  • Create a “mask extender” from a four-inch piece of fabric or tape by sewing buttons on each side to hold the elastic straps of the mask.
  • Sew two large buttons on a soft headband so that the buttons line up with each ear. Wrap the elastic around each button to reduce irritation behind the ears.
  • Use masks with strings or ribbons that tie in the back.

“People with hearing aids should check that their hearing aid is still on after removing their mask,” said Dr Eckert. “We have had patients who have lost their hearing aids because they didn’t realize they had fallen.

8 tips for better communication

Accurate diagnosis and proper treatment are the best strategies for managing hearing loss. However, Dr Gural-Toth and Dr Eckert said there are a few tips anyone can use to help overcome communication barriers caused by masking and social distancing, including:

  1. Lock your attention. Make sure you have someone’s full attention, including eye contact, before starting a conversation.
  2. Turn up the volume, but avoid distortion. It’s fine to speak louder to compensate for the suffocating effect of a mask, but be careful to avoid yelling, which only adds to the distortion.
  3. Speak slowly. Speaking slowly and clearly allows people with hearing loss more time to process information.
  4. Look for facial clues. Although lip reading is not possible, people with hearing loss can still detect other facial cues, such as raised eyebrows, eye movements, or wrinkles created when they smile.
  5. Use gestures. Hand gestures can help convey a message through contextual cues.
  6. Reduce background noise. Limiting background noise helps the brain filter and process speech.
  7. Write it. Writing, texting, or using a text-to-speech smartphone app can be effective and beneficial.
  8. Wear a transparent mask. Transparent masks allow hearing impaired people to read lips and pick up other visual cues.

“If you still have difficulty hearing people who wear a mask even when they are wearing your hearing aids, you may be able to have a second program installed specifically for hearing people who wear masks,” said Dr Eckert .

If you or your loved one has difficulty hearing and understanding speech, it is important to get an assessment from a qualified audiologist.

“We want to encourage people who may have noticed hearing loss during the pandemic to take a hearing test, because getting a diagnosis is the first step towards proper treatment – and an improvement in quality of life,” said the Dr Gural-Toth.

Next Steps and Resources:

The material provided by HealthU is intended to be used for general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your doctor for individual care.


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