Mask Mandate Hindering Those with Hearing Loss
Oct 29, 2020 AT 2:11 pm
(KNSI) - With face masks now a requirement in many public places, it has become more difficult for all of us to communicate in public in general; for those with a hearing loss, they face extra challenges.
Dr. Brooke Steckelberg of the St. Cloud Ear, Nose, and Throat clinic explains that while the masks hinder most people when they try to carry on a conversation, it is a significant struggle for those with hearing loss.
“Some people are very aware they speech read, but everyone does it. Even if you’ve been at a noisy bar, you kind of lean in. People have a tendency to look at the mouth to help form the words when they’re in a really noisy environment. People with hearing loss depend on that significantly more. Sounds are already muffled or unclear to people with hearing loss, and its making it much, much harder. Sounds are not travelling as far because of masks or plexi-glass, and it’s just preventing them from filling in the blanks that they normally could fill in in other situations. In other situations, like if they don’t hear certain letters clearly, before if they could see people, their brain was kind of able to fill in those sounds. And now, they’re not able to because they can’t get that visual piece with it. People’s ability to understand words is 20% better when they can see someone’s face. Not only because they get the formation of words, but they also have context from your facial expression. So they get more visual cues than they think they do.”
Those who use a hearing aid to improve their hearing are finding a secondary hurdle caused by wearing the masks. According to Dr. Steckelberg, instances of patients losing their hearing aid while removing their masks are also increasing.
“They are flinging them off or dislodging them when they take their masks on and off. So we have to teach people better ways to take their masks off. We’ve also been doing a lot of education of don’t take your mask off until you’re inside your car, because if you’re going to dislodge it, it’s better to do it in your vehicle.”
Dr. Steckelberg said that the best thing for those who suffer from hearing loss is for people to wear masks with a clear plastic facepiece, which allows those wearing a hearing aid or who suffer other forms of hearing loss improve their speech reading.
A company out of Juneau, Alaska creates what are called Humanity Shield for those who work with the deaf and hard of hearing.
According to its website,"The Humanity Shield™ is composed of four distinct components: a clear plastic PETG shield, UVA foam, Velcro strapping, and a cloth barrier surrounding the sides and bottom of the shield. These components make the Humanity Shield™ a lightweight product that curves around the face and provides peripheral visibility and protection that reaches ear to ear, as well as under the chin."