The COVID-19 pandemic has given us all a new accessory to wear out in public: the face mask. Some people see the face mask as simply a tool to help prevent the spread of the virus. Others see it as a fashionable accessory that can be personalized to their tastes. And for some people, wearing a face covering has made hearing problems more obvious.
According to the Hearing Loss Association of America, approximately 48 million Americans have some degree of hearing loss. However, people with hearing loss wait an average of 7 years before seeking professional help. Many of these people use lip and speech reading to help them understand any words or phrases they could not hear well. They could also use facial expressions and cues to pick up on the overall message of the speaker. In short, these people with hearing loss would adapt as best they could until the problem became severe enough that they had no other option than to seek help.
In the age of COVID, however, people living with hearing loss can no longer rely on lip and speech reading or visual cues; these are all hidden by face coverings. Even transparent face masks can pose some degree of difficulty for those who read lips. In addition, wearing a face mask tends to muffle the volume of sound and affect the pitch range of speech, making it even more difficult for someone with hearing loss to understand what is being said.
While those with mild to moderate hearing loss could have hidden or ignored their condition for a period of time prior to COVID, in today’s environment, they can no longer “get by” with adaptations. Audiologists around the world have seen an increase in patient visits as people with hearing loss come to the realization that they must seek help in order to function in a world where everyone wears a face mask.
Even people who have previously sought professional help and now use hearing aids have found that they need additional help at this time. Hearing aid professionals have noted that many people who use hearing aids have come in for adjustments so they can better hear and understand people who speak while wearing a face mask. While they may have previously thought that their hearing aids worked well enough, the challenges posed by face masks have highlighted areas for improvement.
If you suspect that you may have hearing loss, or if you have noticed increasing difficulty in understanding speech when people are wearing face masks, we encourage you to visit your hearing healthcare professional. A simple hearing evaluation can determine whether you have hearing loss, and your hearing professional can recommend the treatment that is best for your specific needs and preferences.
If you already use hearing aids and still experience difficulty hearing while using a face mask, you can also benefit from speaking with a hearing aid professional. To learn more about how we can help you hear better, we invite you to contact our office today.