Masks and Social Distancing Interfere with Communication

Viral Causes of Hearing Loss
May 1, 2020
Hurricane Ready!
June 1, 2020

by Dr. Nimet Adam

As hearing loss develops, people tend to rely more and more on visual cues such as facial expressions and lip reading. I am often reminded of that patient that will say “Let me put my glasses on so I can hear you better”. A good speech reader can get almost 30% of the conversation just by looking at the person they are communicating with. Since many sounds of speech are visual (vowels and certain consonants), speech reading can support hearing and make communication easier. Audiologists refer to using visual cues as speech reading rather than lip reading because we take into account facial expressions to help decipher the message. For example, raised eyebrows indicate that a question is being asked. Therefore, we encourage patients to look at the entire face and take all these cues into account. Using visual cues can be particularly helpful while listening in noise as will leaning into the speaker and reducing the distance. When communicating we often tell our patients to not be more than 6 feet away from the speaker.

Unfortunately with the Corona Virus Pandemic we are faced with new obstacles for everyone, especially for those with hearing loss… wearing masks and social distancing.   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 and keeping a distance of at least 6 feet.

The N95 masks (these are the best ones) will take out 12-14 decibels of high frequencies.  Remember, that is where 80% of your speech understanding comes from. Cloth masks take out anywhere from 3-8 dB depending upon any lining that may have been added.   All masks reduce our ability to read lips and see facial expressions.  Add to that the 6 feet rule and now communication is greatly affected.

Here are some helpful tips to improve communication:

  • Turn up the volume of your hearing aids or have a louder program created in your hearing aid for this purpose. Your Audiologist can make a custom program for you if your hearing aid has the ability to have multiple programs.
  • 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 but not more than that since 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. 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 interference.
  • 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.
  • Be careful when removing and placing masks to not disturb placement of your hearing devices. Many patients have lost their devices this way so please take extra care especially when out in public.

Hearing Partners will be using masks that have a clear mouth panel so that our patients don’t have to work so hard to communicate when they are with us!  We are “hear” for you so please don’t hesitate to contact our office if you need any assistance with your hearing healthcare.

Delray – 561-638-6530                      Boynton – 561-736-6002                          Jupiter – 561-736-6002



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