Hearing Impairment & Mask Wearing During COVID-19

Take one look around you and it’s easy to see the effect the COVID-19 pandemic has had on our daily lives. From how we interact with one another to how we shop, eat, and spend our free time, most of us have had to reevaluate what we do and how we do it. It certainly hasn’t been without its challenges, but having the knowledge and resources to help make these transitions easier can make a world of difference. While some of the effects of the pandemic are quite clear, others are less obvious—including how face masks impact the hearing impaired.

How Mask Wearing Impacts the Hearing Impaired

In order to slow the spread of COVID-19, the CDC released recommendations for people to wear masks in public settings. For many, this change meant simply donning a mask when running errands in public, but for those with mild hearing impairments, face masks not only made it more difficult to hear others, it made it nearly impossible to use visual cues such as lip reading and facial expressions to close the gap.

A study performed by Grainger College of Engineering at the University of Illinois aimed to research how the different fabrics of face masks can affect the level of sound degradation when we speak. According to the study, “All masks tested attenuated high-frequency sounds above 1 kHz, with the worst attenuation above 4 kHz. These high-frequency signals are important for hearing sounds like “s,” “f,” and “th,” which are usually the most challenging sounds for people with hearing loss.”

While all face masks dampened these crucial high-frequency sounds, the ones that blocked them the least were the surgical mask and the KN95 respirator, with the 100% cotton jersey masks following close behind. And those face masks with the clear window around the mouth or plexiglass face shields? They actually made the sound degradation worse, especially when not paired with a microphone to amplify sound.

How ASLHC Can Help

It’s evident that masks are here to stay in order for us to protect the health of our neighbors and friends, so what can people with hearing loss do?

Even before the pandemic, hearing aid technology was constantly advancing, so when mask wearing became part of our norm, dedicated efforts were made to create a solution that would make it easier for those with hearing loss to better interact with those around them. If you’ve noticed that you’re having increased trouble understanding what people are saying when they’re wearing a face mask, we encourage you to schedule a consultation with Albuquerque Speech Language Hearing Center today! Whether you already wear a hearing aid or are experiencing new hearing loss symptoms, know that you’re not alone and that there is help available. Our professionals can speak with you about amplification for signal to noise ratio disorders, and help you to understand and know your options.

Get started today by calling 505-431-4212 or visit https://aslhc.org/contact-us/.