Coronavirus is causing us to adjust to a new normal. Many states have started lifting their stay-at-home orders. As a result, safety measures are being implemented. These are designed to help slow the spread of Coronavirus.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been advising Americans on the best ways to protect themselves. This includes advice on what to do if you are sick. It also includes information on protecting yourself and others.
Two protective safety measures you have likely heard of are social distancing and the use of face masks. Social distancing, or limiting face-to-face contact with people, is “the best way to reduce the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).” (Source)
Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to maintain a safe social distance. To this effect, the CDC has recommended that people wear face masks. This includes people who are ill, as well as those who are not showing any symptoms.
You may be wondering why. According to the CDC, “We now know from recent studies that a significant portion of individuals with coronavirus lack symptoms (“asymptomatic”)... even those who eventually develop symptoms (“pre-symptomatic”) can transmit the virus to others before showing symptoms.”
Environments where face masks are advised include grocery stores or pharmacies.
COVID-19 Communication Challenges
Face masks are aimed at keeping us safe. However, if you have a hearing impairment they can present communication challenges. These include:
- Muffled Speech - Unfortunately, wearing a face mask disrupts sound waves. In turn, this can end up leaving speech sounding muffled. This can be difficult to understand even in the best of listening environments.
- Restricting Visual Cues - Lip reading and facial expressions are important parts of communication with a hearing impairment. Face masks obscure the mouth, and therefore make lip reading impossible. Thankfully, studies have shown that clear face masks remove this obstacle.
- Social Distancing - Maintaining a safe social distance can help reduce community transmission. Unfortunately, it can also make hearing more difficult. If you wear a hearing aid, you may find it seems less sensitive at a distance.
Communication Tips When Wearing A Face Mask
For people with a hearing impairment, face masks can present communication challenges. There are a few simple steps that anyone can take to help.
- Live speech-to-text applications - Speech-to-text applications such as LiveTranscribe can be a powerful communication tool. However, don’t assume that your application has picked everything up correctly. Double check your understanding to make sure.
- Speak clearly - Try to speak clearly, and normally. Avoid shouting or speaking slowly, as both can make understanding more difficult.
- Rephrase - If you have asked someone to repeat themselves a number of times, ask them to rephrase what they are saying instead. Changing up the language could help improve understanding.
- Write things down - Use a pen and paper to write down important notes. For example, if you’re collecting a prescription you can write down your prescription details in advance.
- Use your phone’s notepad - Most smartphones have a built in notepad application. You can write down notes, but also use it to enhance communication.
- Minimize background noise - Try to reduce background noise as much as possible. Choose a quiet environment to communicate.
- Use an interpreter - If you know sign language, you may want to considering using an American Sign Language interpreter. Connecticut maintains a database of deaf and hard of hearing interpreters. To find an ASL interpreter near you, click here.
- Wear your hearing device - If you wear hearing aid devices, make sure to wear them. However, take care when removing your face mask. The bands on the mask may have become caught on your hearing aid. To avoid losing your device, we recommend removing your face mask when you’re safely at home.
We’re Here to Help You!
At Hearing, Balance and Speech Center, we have been serving the Hamden community and surrounding areas with hearing loss solutions for over 30 years. We truly understand that hearing is priceless and the effect it has on our overall health and social interaction. If you suspect your hearing may have changed, our article on identifying hearing loss could help. Click here to read today.