What happens when you have a hearing loss? Well, to start with you may have hard time hearing sounds. For example; birds in the distance. Maybe the coffee smells good while it is brewing but you don’t hear the sounds the machine is actually making. That’s sad to me.. I love that sound. If you have a hearing loss then usually understanding speech will become more difficult. Background noise will always make it more difficult for you to understand. The louder the noise the more difficulty you will have trying to get the speech cues. The letters, especially the consonants which make up the meaning of the words will just blend into the background noise. The consonants are very soft sounds. Very soft intensity. Most people will notice that if they look at who they are talking they can pick out a little bit more of the speech cues. This is because of facial expressions and lip reading. Also, the fact that you are concentrating on what they are saying. This is true for everyone. People with normal hearing also benefit from being able to see the person’s face.
Now, with the Corona Virus Pandemic we are faced with a new obstacle for everyone, but; especially those with hearing loss... wearing masks. It is recommended that when out in public or if you are going to come into close contact with someone then you should be wearing a mask.
Let’s just take a look at this. If you have a hearing loss and you need to be able to see someone’s face and lips to really understand them a mask will add additional burden. It will definitely add stress.
It will cause mis-communication. Last week I reprogrammed a patient’s hearing instrument with a new setting/memory so that when he is encountered with others with a mask he can change settings to accommodate for the shift in sound pressure that the mask causes. If you have a hearing loss (and don’t wear corrective devices) and have been struggling... the mask is like putting the last ‘nail in the coffin.’
Breaking the sound pressure data: the N95 masks (these are the best ones) will take out 12-14 decibels of high frequencies. Again, that is where 80% of your speech understanding comes from. Let’s say you have a mild hearing loss. You don’t wear hearing aids and you do decent in most of your listening area’s. Now you are at your Doctors office or a drive thru and they are wearing an N95 mask...you loose 12-14 decibels and now you have gone from a mild loss down into severe. That is why I programmed my patient with a special settings just for when he encountered “masks”. Cloth masks with the folds take out about 4 decibels. Cloth masks take out anywhere from 3-8 dB depending upon any lining that may have been added. They all take out our ability to read lips and see facial expressions. Masks make it harder for people to hear and understanding.
Some helpful tips for everyone: When you speak to someone wearing a mask or if you are wearing a mask... Speak Slower. Raise your voice just slightly... you should be at least 6 feet from who you are talking to so distance causes volume to decrease. Don’t ‘rattle trap.’ As you speak slowly... pause...and give the other party time to respond. There are NO facial cues to help relay the information to the brain: so this delay or gap is necessary for the brain to interpret what the ear has sent. Face each other. Turn off other sounds in the room if possible or move away from them. Be patient, it has been estimated that a person with a hearing loss is working 14 times harder to understand due to the mask that you may be wearing. Remote microphones and table mics are available for those with hearing aids to help to boost and stream speech directly into the hearing aids. If you are struggling to hear or understand then help is available... even if you are to speech to people wearing masks. We just ordered masks for our office that have a clear mouth panel so that our patients don’t have to work so hard to communicate when they are with us! Don’t suffer in silence...there is help available. Reach out to a qualified Hearing Health Care Provider today. To Hear Better Is To Hear Better!