Face Mask Solutions for Individuals with Hearing Aids

Face masks and personal protective equipment (PPE) are crucial in safeguarding our health during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, they pose communication challenges, especially for those with hearing difficulties. This article will explore the impact of face masks on communication and provide practical solutions for individuals wearing hearing aids.

How Face Masks Affect Communication, Speech, and Hearing

Face Masks Reduce Volume and Clarity of Speech

Depending on the type of face mask, speech clarity can be significantly reduced. The volume of speech may decrease by 5 to 15 decibels (dB), resulting in muffled conversations.

Selecting the Right Mask

For individuals with hearing loss, finding a mask that balances virus protection and compatibility with hearing aids or implants is crucial. Research from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign suggests that single-use surgical masks and KN95 respirators dampen sound minimally (approximately 5 dB) while effectively filtering small particles. Cloth masks, though offering lower viral particle protection, excel acoustically.

Clear plastic window masks, often recommended for lip readers, ironically reduce the volume of the speaker’s voice the most. To enhance audibility and reduce vocal fatigue, researchers recommend the use of sound reinforcement or assistive listening systems.

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Social Distancing and Protective Barriers

Maintaining social distance and encountering protective barriers further complicate communication. While these precautions protect against infection, they diminish the volume and clarity of speech. Dr. Debra L. Tucci, Director of the federal Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, emphasizes the added challenges faced by individuals with hearing loss who rely on lip-reading.

A Universal Experience

The impact of COVID-19 has made these communication difficulties universal. Even individuals with normal hearing now find themselves asking others to repeat themselves or speak up.

Addressing Hearing Loss and Face Masks

Merely requesting louder speech may not help individuals with hearing loss, as loud sounds can be detrimental. Instead, adjusting hearing aids and implementing effective communication practices is essential.

‘Face Mask Mode’ on Hearing Aids

Some hearing aid manufacturers have realized the challenges posed by face masks and have introduced updated settings known as “face mask mode.” These settings can be controlled via smartphone apps provided by brands such as Signia and Starkey. Hearing care providers can also make adjustments to hearing aids to account for changes in speech volume and clarity caused by face masks.

Tips for Wearing Hearing Aids with Face Masks

Individuals wearing behind-the-ear hearing aids may encounter specific issues when using face masks with elastic ear loops. The loops may tug at the hearing aid’s wire or tube, potentially dislodging them when removing the mask. To address these challenges, consider the following tips:

  • Opt for masks with fabric ties instead of elastic ear loops, as they are adjustable and exert less pressure.
  • Mask holders or extenders can relieve strain on the ears by supporting the mask, hearing aids, and eyeglasses simultaneously.
  • Some masks clasp at the neck rather than the ears, offering an alternative option.
  • Always remove the mask with caution to avoid accidentally dislodging the hearing aids.
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Given the various hearing aid and face mask types available, it is advisable to consult with a hearing care provider for personalized solutions.

Mask Extenders and Hearing Aids

Mask extenders are excellent accessories for obtaining a snug fit while keeping hearing aids and eyeglasses securely in place. Consider the following options:

  • Fabric or bendable plastic extenders with buttons or notches to attach the mask straps.
  • Simple tools like plastic S-hooks to secure the straps.
  • Cord-and-clip systems such as Ear Gear or Earstay designed to keep hearing aids secure.
  • Utilizing your ponytail or bun as an anchor loop.

Effective Communication Strategies while Wearing a Mask

Face masks significantly reduce the volume of a person’s voice and muffle speech clarity. Implementing the following tips will improve communication, especially when conversing with individuals with hearing loss:

  • Minimize background noise and gain the person’s attention.
  • Inquire whether the person can hear you clearly.
  • Speak slowly and enunciate your words.
  • Avoid shouting, as this may be harmful.
  • Ensure individuals wearing hearing aids are using them properly.
  • Consider using portable hearing aid amplifiers, especially in critical medical communication.
  • If not understood, rephrase using different words.
  • Take turns while speaking.
  • Maintain eye contact and avoid speaking while walking or looking away.

Speaking more clearly with proper enunciation, rather than projecting, is a more effective approach, according to Nicole Marrone, PhD, an associate professor at the University of Arizona.

In situations where following these tips may be challenging, such as during a shopping trip, it is essential to communicate your needs to those around you. Spouses, for example, should be aware that they need to speak slowly and clearly. When conversing with strangers, kindly request that they speak more distinctly and slowly due to your hearing difficulty. Applying creativity by utilizing body language and maintaining eye contact can also help convey meaning effectively.

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For more COVID-19 resources related to hearing loss, visit 5 WS.

Remember, with the right strategies and tools, individuals with hearing aids can overcome face mask-induced communication barriers and ensure effective communication in these challenging times.

The 5 Ws and H are questions whose answers are considered basic in information gathering or problem solving. 5ws.wiki will best answer all your questions

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