If you’re one of the millions of Americans who are deaf or hard of hearing, the pandemic has created new communication challenges. The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommended that all people wear face coverings in public. Many businesses, particularly hospitals and doctor’s offices, now require masks for entry. For a growing number of people, that causes significant hearing disruption. For those already diagnosed with hearing loss, face coverings diminish interpretive ability. And for the millions with undiagnosed hearing loss, they are now aware of new challenges.
7 Hearing Challenges Created By the “New Normal”
1. Sound is Muffled
Face coverings muffle sound significantly. Those with a hearing loss already struggle to interpret words. Masks soften letters that are tough to distinguish from each other, like B, D, T, S, W, V, M, and N. One slight misinterpretation can completely change the meaning. In ordinary circumstances, we might move closer to hear the person speaking. But with current recommendations to maintain a 6-foot distance, that’s no longer viable.
2. Lip Reading is Prevented
Many with deafness and hearing loss rely on lip reading to communicate. With masks, that is now virtually impossible. While some companies produce masks with clear mouth windows, those have been prioritized for the medical community to prevent surgical miscommunication. Many are pushing for adequate distribution to people with hearing loss. But even a transparent barrier complicates lip reading.
3. Facial Expressions Are Confusing
Facial expressions are important cues to determine the meaning of communication. Those with hearing loss rely on facial cues to an even higher degree. With all but the eyes covered, masks create confusion and block essential signals like happiness, anger, seriousness, or concern. For those who primarily communicate through sign language, covering facial expressions presents significant problems.
4. Loneliness is Amplified
Hearing loss can cause feelings of isolation, even under normal circumstances. If you struggle to understand conversations in person, hearing is especially tricky, with communication occurring more online or over the phone. This can result in greater isolation and reduced connection to friends and loved ones.
5. Background Noise is Distracting
With the “new normal,” background noise is a more significant hindrance than ever. When you communicate over Zoom or FaceTime, you’re dealing with background sounds occurring in their location, as well as yours. You also strain to hear when poor connections impair sound quality. Of particular detriment is the background sound occurring in medical facilities. While trying to understand doctors in masks, background noise complicates hearing, causing those with mild to moderate hearing loss only to recall 58% of the information. In the noisiest hospitals, that number drops to 30%. Since many medical practices currently prohibit a companion to interpret, this is a serious issue.
6. Undiagnosed Hearing Loss is Revealed
Many people have a self-perceived adequate hearing. But in the “new normal,” undiagnosed hearing loss is revealed. Often, we’re unaware of how much we relied on things like lip reading and facial expressions until those cues are no longer present. A large percentage of Americans have hearing loss that is untreated, particularly in the older Hispanic population and in communities without access to medical care. Face masks during COVID-19 have made the hearing loss more apparent to a growing number of people.
7. New Hearing Aids Are Needed
If you already wear a hearing aid, the absence of other cues might reveal your hearing aid to be insufficient. It could be time for a newer model, a tune-up, or a better fit. Maybe you want an in-the-ear device to replace your over-the-ear device since you now have mask straps over your ears. Or, if you have never worn a hearing aid, you need a comprehensive hearing assessment. The caring team at Beltone can determine if your difficulty hearing through masks is typical, or if it signifies hearing loss.
Beltone is Here to Help
As the original hearing aid manufacturer in America, Beltone has provided the highest quality devices for 80 years, consistently pushing the boundaries of research and development. Take a look at our innovative products that restore proper hearing. If you or a loved one has been struggling to hear or complaining that others are mumbling, schedule a comprehensive hearing assessment. Remote services are also available for those who don’t wish to visit the office. Contact us today to achieve optimal hearing in the “new normal.”