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Tips For Better Hearing With a Mask

By: Kelly Warf, Au.D.

Wearing a mask has become an important safety measure to reduce the spread of COVID-19. However, masks have become a burden on communication. This has been difficult for those without hearing loss, but sometimes incomprehensible for those with hearing loss. The masks create a barrier to clear speech and lip-reading abilities.

In a study1 comparing the acoustic impact from different types of masks, the surgical masks, KN95, and 2-layered cotton masks had the least impact on speech (about 4 dB impairment), the N95 slightly more (about 6 dB impairment), and the clear shield and vinyl window masks had the most (up to 13 dB impairment). Masks with clear plastic provide access visual cues, they have a poorer effect on speech understanding.

Tips for better hearing with a mask:

  • Ask the speaker to communicate slightly louder and slower (I recommend speaking like Mr. Rogers).
  • If repetition does not prove successful ask the individual to rephrase the sentence.
  • Face the individual you are speaking with. Sound travels the direction we are facing, and while we need to maintain 6 ft apart from others, sound can be improved if sound is traveling the intended direction.
  • Reduce or move away from noise.
  • Carry paper and pen as back-up.

The following are tips for individuals who wear hearing aids:

  • Wear a mask that ties around the back of your head. This reduces the chance of the hearing aids getting caught on your mask. More secure options can be discussed with your audiologists, such as EarGear or Otoclips (Hooked onto your hearing aid and clipped onto clothing).
  • To optimize your hearing aids for better communication, make sure your hearing aids are clean and have full battery (charged over-night or carry spare disposable batteries, if applicable).
  • Schedule an appointment with your audiologist to make sure your hearing loss prescription is up-to-date and hearing programs and accessories are optimized.

If you continue to struggle with hearing or your hearing aids with masks, call our office to schedule an appointment with our Audiologists to discuss your options. Schedule today at 847-685-1000.

Reference:
1. Corey, Ryan M. PhD; Jones, Uriah; Singer, Andrew C. PhD Comparison of the Acoustic Effects of Face Masks on Speech, The Hearing Journal: January 2021 – Volume 74 – Issue 1 – p 36,38,39 doi: 10.1097/01.HJ.0000725092.55506.7e

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