Many of us never thought we would live in conditions like these. Health experts recommend wearing a mask to slow the spread of COVID-19 whenever you are in a public. While wearing masks is important to protect you, your community and others, it can be difficult at times to get used to this new health formality. For people with hearing issues, wearing masks can add a whole new set of complications in communication.
Challenges in Communication When Wearing Face Masks
Many people with hearing issues rely on visual cues to supplement what they can’t hear. This is often true for people even when they wear hearing aids. Visual cues like facial expressions and lip reading allow people to communicate more easily when hearing is compromised. When masks are used these visual cues are covered up as well making it very difficult for people to understand masked speakers. In addition to the loss of visual listening clues, masks can muffle speech adding greater obstacles for everyone but especially for the hearing impaired.
Tips for Communicating with Face Masks
While face masks are an inconvenience, diligence in wearing a mask is important in stopping the spread of COVID-19. This can help to prevent spikes in infection, allowing our hospitals to avoid becoming overburdened and our communities to stay healthy. It’s important to get used to communicating with face masks in these strange times. Here are a few tips for communication with face masks:
See-Through Face Masks
There are many clear face masks available that allow people with a hearing disability to see the speakers face and mouth while still providing adequate protection. This allows for lip reading and a clear view of facial expression. If there are people that you speak with regularly with while wearing face masks, ask them to obtain a clear mask, making it easier for you to rely on visual cues. Even so, this does not eliminate the muffled sound that most face masks produce.
Get the Listener’s Attention
You can let the people in your life know that it is helpful for them to get your attention before they start speaking. This allows you to be prepared to listen. Maintain eye contact while listening, as this will allow you to focus more clearly on what is being said. The good news is you can still rely on body language and hands movement as visual cues as to the speaker’s intent. There is no need to shout, but speaking slowly and clearly can allow people to hear better with the impediment of a mask blocking the face.
Eliminate Background Noise
A noisy environment can make it more difficult for a person with a hearing disability to succeed in conversation. With the addition of masks this becomes even more of a hurtle. A medical setting or a loud shopping area can make it extremely difficult to hear people speaking with masks on. Whenever possible avoid louder areas. These not only tend to be more crowded but make it very difficult to hear. If you can, turn down extraneous sounds so you and the other person can hear clearly with masks. If you can’t avoid or eliminate noise, try writing out what you are trying to communicate or using your phone to type it out.
Tips for Wearing Face Masks with Hearing Aids
For hearing aid users many masks are not compatible with hearing aids. If the masks loop around the ears where a hearing aid is worn or a cochlear implant is placed this can add discomfort and distortion to your hearing device, sometimes causing it to fall out.
Many hearing aid and cochlear implant wearers have found success while wearing a headband, which they attach the mask loops to instead of behind the ears. You could also invest in masks with four strings, two on each side that tie behind your head instead of looping behind the ears.
Treating Hearing Loss
If hearing has become an issue while wearing a mask, it could point to a greater hearing issue. Make an appointment for a hearing exam today and deal with your hearing loss now!