Face Mask and Hearing Aids

Time to Read: 4 minutes

Value Hearing audiologist Emma Russell shares why you are finding it difficult to hear when people are wearing masks and offers some practical tips on how to maximise your best hearing during this mask wearing time.

 

Hi there, welcome back to Value Hearing’s YouTube channel.

I'm Emma. I'm a clinical audiologist and today I'm going to talk to you about face masks and hearing aids, and hearing loss.

So, we all are now living in a world where most of us are having to wear a face mask at some point when we're out in public, in some countries more than others. 

And a common complaint that we're getting from our clients, obviously, is that they're struggling to understand speech more than ever. We've even had people who have been coping quite well with their hearing loss now being surrounded by people with face masks really coming in and saying, ‘I think I need a hearing aid’.

 

The reason for this, if it's not obvious, is that when we wear a face mask such as this one, our speech is dampened so they've actually done some research into it last year and they found that the speech can be dampened usually the high frequencies so where the consonants are at the beginning and ends of words they can be dampened by between 4 and 12 decibels, depending on the mask.

That is a huge amount. For those of you that don't really know much about decibels. That is a massive, massive, massive amount. That is the difference between hearing and not hearing.

So, even with normal hearing, someone communicating with you with a face mask is going to be really difficult. Some masks like this, dampen a little bit less.

Other masks such as the cloth masks like this one (can you tell I like cats?), will dampen it even further.

It does make communication very, very difficult with people who have a hearing loss or a hearing aid.

The other thing with face masks, obviously, is that it takes away the visual cues and many of us don't realize how much we really, really depend on the lips for reading. Even with perfect hearing, we depend on the lips for hearing. So sounds like ‘sha’ and ‘fa’, really don't sound that different, especially if you're out somewhere noisy.

 

So we rely on lip reading to see the difference because ‘sha’ and ‘fa’ looks completely different. You take that cue away from people makes it a very tricky situation.

Thankfully though, last year our industry after doing the research got together and started putting some guidelines for us audiologists together so that we could offer you something called ‘mask mode’.

Some of the hearing aid manufacturers have already put it on their hearing aids they're available in the app where you can just click on mask mode and essentially what it's doing is just compensating for the dampening that's caused by the mask so it's amplifying the speech in those frequencies to a certain extent.

If your audiologist designs it, we can be a little bit more accurate for you and it's also increasing things like noise reduction, and  increasing directionality to support you.

So definitely, if you have a hearing aid and you don't have mask mode already available in your app, then please, please go to your audiologist and definitely ask them to create a mask mode for you.

 

If, for some reason, your audiologist is unsure how to do this, there's lots of information online. I really liked what the National Acoustics Laboratory here in Australia published online.

As a guide, they gave us some really exact numbers and guidelines, but also on the Oticon website they've put something together really, really beautiful for us audiologists to be able to design a really good mask mode for our clients.

Now, if you are someone who's communicating with someone with a hearing loss, or you are one of those, and you should be, assertive hearing aid wearers or hearing impaired people, then you should communicate with the person that you're talking to and say to them, ‘Look, I need you just to speak a little bit slower and a little bit clearer’. 

A tiny bit louder can help when they're wearing a mask not talking at the same level that they always have but really it's the speaking a bit slower and a bit clearer. And look, if you're out with a loved one, you're both wearing masks, one of you has a hearing loss, there are other things that you can do.

Just make sure you're facing them. Get their attention first,  and if they don't hear you, maybe the second time you've said a sentence, maybe find a different way to say it.

So, if you say to them, ‘do you want a cup of tea?’, and they don't hear it, maybe say you're putting the kettle on and it might make more sense to them.

These are all good tips for anyone that's communicating with someone with hearing loss but particularly in this time of mask wearing, it's more important than ever.

We will be making a video to give you some tips on how to wear masks with hearing aids to make it more comfortable and mean that it's less likely that you will lose your hearing aids thanks to the masks.

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