Wearing a face mask in public is fast becoming the new normal, but the very thing designed to help us slow the spread of disease is causing communication problems for those who have a hearing loss. We want to help raise awareness of the challenges that face masks create and suggest several ways to help.

Face Masks Provoke Anxiety

An unintended consequence of the mandates enforced to protect the population’s health is a hindrance to communication. Especially true for those with a hearing loss. 

Wearing a face mask suppresses emotional cues and facial expressions and, as a result, creates anxiety when communicating. Face masks can be especially frightening for children.

For some, this anxiety might make them withdraw or avoid going out in public (Already a symptom of hearing loss). It might increase feelings of claustrophobia (a fear of being confined) and exacerbate other symptoms of anxiety, such as panic attacks, sweats, dizzy spells, or hyperventilating. 

Reduced Speech Clarity

Muffled sound or speech from behind a face mask becomes a problem for those with hearing loss. A reduction in sound clarity and volume makes it difficult to distinguish between consonants, whole words, or entire phrases during a conversation – it’s like trying to hear through a pair of earmuffs.

Absence of Visual Cues

For those who need ASL to get by, not only is it near impossible to sign without touching your face, but a face mask hides the mouth which is an essential part of ASL communication. And it is not easy or convenient to lip read from 6ft away thanks to social distancing.

Tips for Helping Individuals with Hearing Loss

There are some ways to work around the communication problems created by face masks. Though those with hearing loss should be made aware of how to cope, it is equally essential that all of us make a conscientious effort to improve communication. 

Here are several tips for helping individuals with hearing loss:

  • Reduce background noise as much as possible or move to a quieter location. 
  • Speak slower and speak up (without shouting); this will help project sound waves through the mask, increasing clarity of sound.
  • Wear your hearing aids and have them adjusted appropriately.
  • Individuals who regularly interact with medically vulnerable people, i.e., elderly adults or those with a hearing loss, should consider a face mask with a transparent screen over the mouth or face shield.
  • Becoming familiar with and utilizing communication tools like text-to-speech smartphone apps can significantly facilitate communication with the hearing impaired.

The Hearing Center MCC Can Help

As face mask mandates continue, our failure to take into account those with hearing loss will further isolate people and contribute to a reduced quality of life. A concerted effort to use all available solutions for better communication is essential, with a greater awareness of the challenges and a collaborative effort to use all possible solutions.

The team and I at the Hearing Center MCC can reduce the frustration brought on by reduced clarity of sound. Our commitment is to use our passion and resources to improve communication for those with a hearing loss. 

If you or a loved one is struggling during this time, call us at 850.474.8328, contact us online for more information about better communication tips and tools, or schedule a comprehensive hearing assessment, which includes built-in safety protocols.

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Jennifer LaBorde Au.D., CCC-A

Jennifer LaBorde Au.D., CCC-A

Dr. Jennifer LaBorde is an audiologist who has been in practice since 1999. She has a Masters in Communication Disorders from University of South Alabama, Bachelor’s of Science in Communication Disorders from the University of Mississippi, and holds a Certificate of Clinical Competence in Audiology.
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    The first time I noticed signs of a hearing loss was back when I was with the Memphis Police Force on the first anti-sniper unit (SWAT) team. Shooting many rounds of guns a week led to ringing in my ears, which it seemed was the start of my hearing loss.
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    I first noticed my hearing loss when I was having to ask people to repeat themselves a lot. I decided to get my first hearing test and I was very impressed with the service from The Hearing Center. The people were friendly and knowledgeable.
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