Though the image of average citizens wearing masks for protection from airborne illnesses is something we would typically associate with highly concentrated populations in other parts of the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has made this practice much more commonplace in the United States. It’s something that we’re all adjusting to and hope is a very temporary measure as experts strive to create new and better safeguards for our ongoing health and public safety.
Colorado Ear Care, like many of the businesses in our community, are doing all that we can from a hygiene and safety standpoint in order to protect our patients, our teams, and our families from potential risk. That said, these safety measures are not without complication.
How is mask-wearing affecting those with hearing loss?
Medical experts share the consensus that wearing a mask can assist in mitigating the risk of spreading coronavirus. Yes, they can be uncomfortable and fog up your glasses — and this becomes all the more complicated when we’re talking about someone who is wearing a mask, hearing aids, and glasses over their ears! — but what’s worse is that for some folks in our community, we might be causing a new problem by trying to solve an existing one. In this case, we’re referring to those who are already navigating life with hearing loss.
For those who do and do not wear hearing technology to limit the effects of hearing loss, lip reading can be a foundation piece in understanding speech. In fact, experts state nearly ⅓ of our ability to comprehend speech is due to lip reading. These visual cues are a crucial part of our communication process, and hearing loss makes them even more vital. So what do we do when healthcare professionals are recommending we cover up?
How can we more effectively wear hearing aids and masks and better understand the speech of others?
First of all, we just want to acknowledge the difficulty this situation has caused for so many in our community. Most of us are treading through uncharted territory and we all deserve just a little extra patience, grace, and support. This has always been true for us all Colorado Ear Care, but it feels especially true now.
If you or someone you love is wearing hearing technology, in particular styles of devices like the receiver-in-canal or behind-the-ear, having yet another thing wrapped around your ear not only increases the likelihood of discomfort and fatigue, but you’re also increasing the odds that, when putting on and taking off your mask, you might drop, or worse, lose a hearing aid.
Now, our goal here is not to increase your worry but to make this experience easier for you.
So what should you do to mitigate the discomfort and potential loss of your hearing aids? Well, we think one of the easiest things we can do to decrease discomfort while maintaining the appropriate level of safety lies in the type of mask you’re choosing to wear.
In an effort reduce ear fatigue, consider forgoing masks that have elastic straps and instead choose one that ties in the back. This way, you can make it as snug against your face but it won’t get tangled up with your hearing aids or your glasses if you’re someone who wears either — or both!
If a tie-on mask is difficult to find or isn’t appealing to you, then there are still other options. We’ve found mask extenders — a device usually made of a plastic or fabric strip featuring notches that mask straps can connect to — to be a nice alternative for hearing aid wearers. These extenders not only give the wearer a better fit, but they also conveniently pull the mask straps away from your ears and hearing aids, giving you a little more confidence that you won’t knock off your hearing technology as you wear your mask. A win-win!
There are numerous types available online, just search for “mask extender” and choose the size, color, and style that best suits you.
I have hearing loss, and masks make communication challenging. What do I do?
If you’re someone who has hearing loss, then you already are well aware of how challenging communication can be in certain situations. Mask wearing just complicates things further.
Even for those who don’t have any discernible hearing loss, masks muffle speech and cover up those vital visual cues that help us process and understand information. Though this is perhaps oversimplifying things a bit, it’s not so outlandish to say that we hear with our brains just as much as we hear with our ears. Suddenly, in an era that can already feel a little extra stressful, our brains are having to work overtime to hear and understand even the most commonplace of interactions.
So what are our options? Well, we don’t anticipate that our need for wearing masks in public is going to change tomorrow, so let’s make a plan that will help us have better experiences until that day comes. Part of that plan is a willingness to speak and set expectations with those you are trying to communicate with. For example:
As much as it might tempt you to do so, please don’t remove your mask! There’s no need to risk yourself health and well-being when there are other solutions and techniques available, especially if you belong to a higher risk category. And don’t ask them to, either!
Let them know that you have a hearing difficulty so that they more carefully consider how they are communicating.
Politely request that they take their time in speaking with you. The slower and clearer, but not necessarily louder, the better.
We communicate a great deal of information through our eyes. When communicating with the other person, pay special attention to what they are saying through them.
Are you a smartphone user? There are things like notes apps, voice-to-text, and other tech solutions that can be of assistance. Or why not go analog and carry pen and paper or a small dry-erase board with you? Yes, this might seem burdensome, but it will be easier in the long run than struggling to convey information through a muffled mask.
We’ve even seen some masks that have plastic or vinyl windows in the front that allow the wearers mouths to be seen! It’s an interesting solution, though we do wonder if they get fogged up the longer one wears them.
Bottom line — your health is important to us!
At Colorado Ear Care, our commitment to you and your loved ones is to provide the best possible hearing testing, recommendations, and treatment. With so much in the world to worry about these days, we want to be a resource of confidence, hope, and positivity. And we’ll always do our best to deliver that to you in the safest way possible.