Why Do Masks Make it Difficult to Communicate?

Who would have thought at the start of 2020 that wearing masks in public would become the new normal? It has been found that wearing surgical masks in combination with a tight-fitting cloth mask can reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus by 95%, keeping us and people around us safe. Even so, wearing masks can be uncomfortable and present specific challenges for those of us with hearing issues. Now people with hearing loss and deafness have added challenges in communication.

Masks can Muffle Our Voices

A mask not only minimizes the spread of airborne viruses but also muffles sound. This can add considerate hurdles for people who already struggle to hear. One or now even two masks can make speech softer and less clear. If certain syllables or tones were already an issue, wearing a mask can make it difficult even for those of us with normal hearing. If you wear hearing aids you can ask us at Gulf Gate Hearing Aid Center to adjust them to account for how speech volume and clarity is affected by people wearing facemasks.

Hearing is Harder in Background Noise

Many of us can hear just fine when going for a masked walk together on a quiet trail or in a quiet room. However, the challenges for communication with masks can become significantly more difficult as background noise starts to increase. For people who deal with hearing loss, even if some of those who use hearing aids, noise and chatter can make it distracting, confusing and challenging to hear. Masks amplify this situation creating issues for all listeners. In a noisy setting even people with normal hearing rely on facial expression and mouth position in order to compensate for what audio information we might miss. A loose fitting mask is not only less effective in protecting you and others from COVID-19 but can also further make communication difficult. This is because many who used to rely on facial expression to communicate can still use jaw or cheek position to help interpret what you are saying when it is too loud to hear clearly.

Visual Cues Obscured By Masks

Some information is lost when the mask goes up. This includes, smiles, frowns lip movement and crinkle lines on the mouths corners. Tiny reflexive gestures can indicate approval or disapproval and give us many unrealized clues to people’s intent. Now that most people we interact with have their faces obscured it can be all too easy to miss out on these subtle cues, which help us, understand context, emotion, and words that are being said. Those with hearing loss are all too used to relying on facial expression and body language in place of what can be heard. Wearing a mask cuts off this visual cue and makes it harder to follow conversations.

How to Compensate for Communication Issues With Masks

For better or for worse, it seems we will be wearing masks in public into the foreseeable future and we need to understand the best ways to communicate while wearing them. Many people who have learned to accommodate or live with their hearing loss may already be used to some of the most common strategies for making communication easier. For instance, turning down the sound around you can make it much easier to hear the other masked person. This eliminated distractions and interference making it much easier to hear. Another method that makes it easier for people to understand while wearing a mask is to speak a little slower. This gives your brain more time to interpret what the person is saying with reduced hearing. 

Choose Your Mask Wisely

A tight-fitting mask that hugs your nose and mouth will not only keep you and others safer but will make it easier to others to see your chin, jaw and cheeks which also transmit contextual cues for smoother communication. Many hospitals are now employing the use of clear masks, which makes it easier for people who rely on lip-reading and facial expression to hear important information from healthcare providers.

Schedule a Hearing Test

Of course, extra trouble hearing with masks is normal but if the problem is persistent it could be a sign of a greater issue with hearing. Make an appointment to have your hearing tested today. It could help you identify a hearing loss early and get it treated before it becomes a more persistent problem.