As healthcare professionals, my colleagues and I understood why the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommended face coverings to reduce the spread of COVID-19. However, we knew the widespread use of face masks would cause problems for people with hearing challenges. Face masks eliminate the visual aspects of communication; many people with hearing loss use to communicate. Also, masks distort the sound of the words we hear.

Here’s what you need to know.

Face Masks Hide Facial Expressions

To a certain extent, all of us, including people who don’t have hearing problems, use facial expressions to understand what other people are saying. For most of us, facial expressions give meaning to the information we receive from the words we hear.

We’ve all had experiences when facial expressions have told us more about the words being spoken.

When you’re hard of hearing, you rely on facial expressions as an aid to put words into context.

Now that wearing masks has become the norm, you may have become aware you’re more dependent on seeing facial expressions than you’d realized.

Lip-Reading Is Impossible

People with untreated hearing loss tend to use lip-reading to fill in the gaps left by their loss of hearing.

Perhaps this describes you.

Face masks have taken away that connection without giving you any time to prepare.

The situation can be frustrating and isolating. You may have been lip-reading to communicate while working or running errands. Now masks have made your daily life difficult.

What You Can Hear Is Incomprehensible

Even when wearing masks isn’t the norm, untreated hearing loss makes people sound like they’re mumbling. Hearing individuals frequently complain face masks make others sound muffled. Therefore, if you’re living with untreated hearing loss, it’s not surprising masks make the words you do hear impossible to understand.

Masks Can Interrupt Vital Communication

We don’t want to minimize the hardship masks place on individuals with hearing challenges as they navigate their daily routines. Yet, we also want everyone to realize the problems masks cause aren’t minor inconveniences. For instance, consider hard of hearing patients who can’t understand masked emergency room professionals. Such patients can’t give their consent for treatment.

An Incomplete Solution

Fortunately, there’s growing awareness about the problems face masks cause for people with hearing challenges. Some organizations are looking at clear masks as a solution. Transparent masks do have shortcomings as they’re not widely available. If they don’t fog up, you can see a portion of the face, which may not be enough to understand facial expressions. Lip-reading may become possible. However, clear masks still muffle the wearer’s words.

Treatment Is the Answer

Treating your hearing loss is the best way to reduce your reliance on visual cues for communication.

Our audiologists can evaluate your hearing and recommend solutions.

If you or a loved one has been struggling or complaining that others are mumbling, contact us to schedule a comprehensive hearing assessment.

In-person appointments are available. Since our priority is the safety of our patients and our team, we’ve put protocols in place for your protection.

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Dr. Lacey Brooks, CCC-A, FAAA - Doctor of Audiology

Dr. Lacey Brooks received a bachelor’s degree in biology and chemistry in 2003, and earned her doctorate of audiology in 2009. She completed her clinical internships and residency at various facilities within Houston Medical Center. Dr. Brooks is a professional member of the American Tinnitus Association (ATA), a fellow of the American Academy of Audiology (AAA), a member of the Texas Academy of Audiology (TAA), and is certified by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). She is also the vice president of the Louisiana State University Houston Chapter Alumni Association.
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