The CDC is recommending that people wear face masks in public places to prevent the spread of COVID-19. While this is an important measure to protect people from the virus, it does pose a problem for people with hearing loss. This is both because the mask makes communication difficult by muffling speech and creating a physical barrier that prevents lip-reading, and because the straps are uncomfortable for people wearing hearing aids.
Below are some tips for people with hearing loss to wear face masks more comfortably, as well as tips for safe communication when one conversation partner has hearing loss.
Wearing a Mask & Hearing Aids
If you wear behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids, you’ve likely encountered issues trying to wear a standard facemask with elastic ear loops. Many report that removing the mask also pulls out hearing aids.
“There have been calls for the public to use transparent face shields, rather than masks, which may offer a solution. But the public has yet to adopt this solution,” explained Kevin Munro, Ph.D., and professor of audiology at the University of Manchester in the U.K.
Until then, you can try wearing a mask with soft fabric ties rather than elastic to relieve pressure, using a mask extender that attaches around the back of your head rather than hooking behind your ears, or utilizing plastic s-hooks to loop the mask onto.
Communicating with Someone with Hearing Loss
Neither the person with hearing loss nor the person without wants to put their health at risk by removing their mask. To ease the burden of communication in public places, try…
- Going to a quiet place with less background noise.
- Asking the person with hearing loss what would be helpful for them/communicating your needs if you have hearing loss.
- Speaking slowly and clearly, but not shouting (as this can be painful and distort speech).
- Rephrase sentences if not understood.
- Take turns while speaking.
- Do not talk while on-the-go.
Several people, including audiologist Angie Lederman, have designed masks with clear plastic windows to help with lip reading. If you are able to get a hold of one, it is perhaps one of the best ways to improve communication with those who have hearing loss.
For more information or to schedule an appointment, contact ENT of Georgia today.