Americans have entered a new era of day-to-day life. Face masks — once common in our minds as a habit specific to the more densely populated areas of Japan, South Korea, and China — are increasingly becoming the norm here in the United States for those citizens who choose to take extra cautionary measures during the first pandemic in most of our lifetimes. They are also, as of this writing, mandatory for employees to wear in most business contexts.
Does wearing a mask cause difficulties for those with hearing loss?
The adoption of face masks makes good sense and wearing a face mask has been proven to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. But what solves one problem can sometimes contribute to another. In this case, the wearing of cloth face coverings is causing a great deal of difficulty for people who are living with a hearing loss, both in terms of the discomfort it can cause with wearing certain types of hearing devices, as well as some of the communication hurdles it creates for those who rely on visual verbal cues to increase the quality of their understanding in hearing (lip reading accounts for 30% of speech recognition).
What can you do to successfully wear hearing aids and a mask?
For those folks who wear hearing technology, particularly behind-the-ear (BTE) and receiver-in-the-ear (RIC) style devices, wearing a mask means you have one more thing wrapped around your ears. Not only does this increase your risk of losing your devices, but there’s also the added fatigue or discomfort that can come from the combination of these items sharing the same space.
So what should you do to mitigate the discomfort and potential loss of your hearing aids?
One very simple recommendation we make to our patients is to consider the type of mask they’re wearing. Instead of wearing a facemask with elastic bands or straps that wrap around the ears, consider wearing a mask that ties in the back. It’s adjustable to your comfort, and won’t disturb your hearing aids or your glasses. If a tie-mask simply isn’t an option for you, then consider what’s called a “mask extender.” These extenders wrap around the back of your head and attach to each of the mask’s elastic bands, keeping them away from your devices and allowing you to adjust the fit of your mask. These items come in a variety of styles and constructions and can be purchased online or you can watch a tutorial and make them yourself!
As a hearing aid wearer, how do I overcome the challenges of communicating with others when we’re wearing masks?
Even if you’re someone who already experiences the benefits of wearing hearing technology, when both you and the person you are speaking with are wearing face masks, you’re suddenly posed with a new set of challenges to overcome. Facemasks tend to make speech sound more muffled and unclear. Also,we hear with our brain, and although that may sound silly, that means that in order to understand speech our brain uses both visual and auditory clues. Face masks take away the visual component of hearing making it much more difficult to understand what is being said. You can hear someone speaking, but can’t distinguish what is being said. We recommend you be confident and consider our advice, and although the challenges of communicating with facemasks will remain, the suggestions below may help to make your communications a bit easier:
Be open about your hearing difficulty
Ask who you’re communicating with to speak more slowly and clearly; remember shouting or just speaking loudly does not make speech easier to understand
Though you might be tempted to, do not remove your mask and do not ask the other person to, either
Pay special attention to non-verbal visual cues – look for people smiles in the eyes
Consider using visual aids to support the understanding of the discussion, like pen and paper, smartphone notes apps, or even voice-to-text dictation apps
Some medical practices are even using face masks with clear plastic windows to aid the hearing and understanding of those facing difficulty. And if you wear hearing aids, ask your practitioner about creating a “mask program” to enhance understanding. No matter what situation you’re in, we at Beltone Tristate believe that if you’re confident, set expectations, and keep your interactions simple, you’ll be able to overcome some of these challenges.
Want to learn more about how you can have an even better hearing experience in your day-to-day interactions? Call us today! The professionals at Beltone Tristate have helped thousands over the years hear their very best. Make an appointment today for your free hearing test!