Public health officials are stressing the importance of wearing face masks. These face coverings play an important role in stopping the spread of the COVID-19 virus. However, wearing face masks can make communication more challenging for everyone. And if you have hearing loss, you’re probably having an extremely hard time understanding what people around you are saying. Why is it so much harder to hear when everyone is wearing face masks? And what can you do to hear more clearly?
Face Masks and Hearing Loss
Everyone with hearing loss knows that wearing face masks makes it hard to hear conversations. During the pandemic, adults with hearing loss have experienced communication barriers because of face masks, and have had a harder time accessing services. Some older adults report feeling more anxious and isolated, and even feeling more confused than usual. Adults who didn’t think they had hearing loss are also discovering that wearing face masks highlights all the sounds they can’t hear.
Why is Communication So Challenging?
Face masks can make it harder to hear during conversations. Sounds are muffled by the mask, so you’ll have more difficulty following what’s being said. This is especially true when higher pitched sounds get muffled, making it challenging to hear clearly.
The truth is that following conversations isn’t just about hearing. Wearing a mask and standing 6 feet away affects more than just the sound. Face masks are also a barrier to non-verbal communication, such as lip reading or understanding facial expressions. This is another reason communication is so challenging with face masks.
This year, people are turning to technology to communicate. From phone calls to video calls to work meetings on Zoom, we’re all spending a lot more time communicating online. Adults with untreated hearing loss are struggling to adapt to this new communication style, and have a hard time following what’s being said.
Communication Tips with Face Masks
There are a few things you can do to ease communication with face masks and hearing loss. Start by making sure you can wear your hearing aids and face mask comfortably. You may need to find a face mask with ties rather than ear loops, or use a hair clip to attach the loops to your hair rather than your ears.
Here are a few tips to ease communication:
- Don’t start speaking until the person you’re speaking to is looking at you. Start by waving or calling their name.
- Face the person directly so you can make eye contact, and make sure there’s nothing between you and your conversation partner.
- Try to avoid background noise. If you’re in a noisy area, move somewhere quieter before having a conversation.
- Try talking a bit louder than usual. This will help sound carry through your mask and across the 6 feet.
- Don’t shout! Raising your voice too much will distort the sound and make it harder to understand.
- Speak a bit slower than usual. The best way to do this is by adding in a few pauses between sentences.
- Make use of nonverbal cues whenever you can. This included nodding or shaking your head, giving a thumbs up, or gesturing with your hands.
- Let your eyes and your eyebrows be expressive. It’s hard to see if you’re smiling behind your mask, but you can show that emotion in your eyes.
- Ask people to repeat themselves whenever you don’t hear something. It’s also a good idea to ask follow-up questions to make sure the person you’re talking to has understood what you said, and didn’t mishear any important information.
Treat Your Hearing Loss
Don’t let another day go by with poor hearing. Face masks can make communication frustrating, but you can do something about it. Treating hearing loss with quality hearing aids will help you hear clearly, even when you and everyone near you is wearing a mask. Modern hearing aids will also make it easy to connect to the technology you use the most. Some hearing aids offer full connectivity. Just connect your hearing aids to your phone or computer using Bluetooth, and wirelessly stream all the audio right to your ears.