COVID unmasks hearing loss
7th Sep 2020
How compulsory mask-wearing will affect those with hearing loss.
Communicating vocally with a face mask can be difficult, even for people with perfect hearing. Yet, this is even more challenging for people with hearing loss. Often, people who suffer from hearing loss rely on visual cues from a person’s mouth, which has become impossible with many standard facemasks.
If you are struggling to hear those who are wearing a mask, you are not alone. You may hear their voices yet have difficulty clarifying their words, which can seem like people are mumbling. Face masks can distort the clarity of our voices which makes verbal communication difficult. Masks can also reduce the quality of communication as the speaker and listener may move closer to one another in order to hear more clearly, however, this will affect the volume and not clarity.
People who suffer from hearing loss can use facial cues and lip movement to understand the intonation and emotion behind what people are saying. Standard face masks also alter the frequency content of the speech signal, meaning many people are suffering from “degraded communication” says Michael Stone, senior research fellow in audiology at the University of Manchester.
Transparent face masks can allow people who suffer from hearing loss to see our facial cues more easily.
Surgical masks made from transparent materials enable the mouth to be seen when communicating. In some countries, individuals have created masks with transparent windows. This makes it easier for lip reading and understanding what people are saying.
A group of charities, led by the National Deaf Children’s Society, are currently campaigning for the use of see-through masks. This will not only help people with hearing loss but will also help everyone understand those subtle communication messages when a portion of the face is concealed.
The Leaf Mask
Recently, there has been a new development called the Leaf Mask. This is made using a soft silicone material, which claims to be the world’s first FDA approved transparent face mask. As well as allowing for people to communicate more easily, this mask is packed with a number of COVID-killing features, such as a filter house in the chin area and a permanent anti-fog coating on the inside of the mask. The UV and Pro models are built with a UVC light which the company claims can kill pathogens at the DNA level.
Why we should wear a transparent face mask
Facemasks appear to be here to stay for the foreseeable future. In the UK, they are mandatory to wear on public transport and in shops. The public can even face a fine for refusing to wear one.
When communicating, visual queues are more important than we realise. When displaying different emotions, naturally we use different parts of our face to convey different emotions. This allows the listener to understand our point of view and react accordingly.
For example, when conveying anger, visual queues occur from the mouth. This can include a slight twitch from the levator muscles and lip corners. When talking with someone, it can be difficult to read their emotions from just their eyes.
Practical advice for those finding it difficult to hear with masks on.
An unintended consequence of wearing a face mask could be that social distancing is being replaced with social isolation and poor well-being especially in older adults with hearing problems.
So before you purchase a transparent mask, what can you do if you have a hearing loss and are confronted by someone wearing a face mask?
First, take the initiative and get a hearing test. If you prefer, you can take a quick 3-minute hearing test online, by visiting the home page of our website on www.alderleyhearing.co.uk. Whilst this quick check is not a substitute for a professional hearing check, we recommend you call us on 01625 582140 or visit any our branches in Cheshire for a more comprehensive hearing test.