Hearing in the Covid-19 Age

Kim

By KIM FISHMAN

MINNEAPOLIS — We are all starting to walk around with face-masks to protect us from this horrible Coronavirus. The Coronavirus does kill people who are infected although not always but enough. So the entire world is shutting down businesses, socializing  and  going out.  We are protecting one another by wearing face-masks and distancing one another from each other.

While walking through a grocery store the other day, someone with a face-mask said something to me and I had no idea what he said.   Then I was texting with a friend who has a severe hearing loss and I suggested we go for a walk while socially distancing and wearing face-masks.  I joked and said “that will be a lot of fun Lucy, because you won’t hear a word I say”.   She actually said she could hear from 6′ but if I wore a face-mask it would be nearly impossible to communicate.

If you can’t understand people wearing a face-mask and at a distance, please don’t worry that your hearing  is getting worse.   Below are the reasons why you are having more trouble hearing and some suggestions to help you.

  1. Talking from a distance–  the mics on the hearing aids do better and pick up sound more clearly when you are within 6′ of the sound source.  If you are more than 6′ away you lose the soft sounds that don’t travel to your microphones, especially those high frequencies.

Solution:  This is an easy solution; if we have to social distance for much longer, one solution for 6′ conversations is the remote mics.  Almost all new hearing aids and some older ones have a remote microphone you can buy.  Talk to me or other audiologists to inquire.

2. Listening to Someone with a Covered Mouth – When you are talking to someone where you can’t see their lips then you can’t read their lips either.  You say you aren’t good at lipreading?   Even if you are not good at lipreading, you actually do get  some  information from people’s lips and mouth.  You can see on the mouth some formations to tell if they had used a “p” from a “s” for example.  You can also tell if the person is smiling while saying what they are saying or serious, which can change the inflection and meaning.  For instance they could say “I am fine” with a smile or “I am fine” with a serious scared look.

Ultimately, this can affect your speech intelligibility and speech understanding.  A solution for this is to ask another question to confirm what you thought you heard.  You could say “did you say you were fine and are you really feeling OK?”  This is always a nice response when you are really listening to what they say.  If you say “did you say”.. and were wrong, then the person will repeat for you what they said.

You could also let the person know that you have a hearing loss and you didn’t understand what they had just said.  Perhaps they will lift up there mask for one second and repeat, while taking a step back. 🙂

3Wearing a face-mask can muffle one’s speech – If you are listening to someone with a face-mask, just be aware that the speech can also be muffled.   Truly muffled speech is hard for anyone to understand, even people who have normal hearing.  Muffled speech is not clear and if you wear a hearing aid, it isn’t because your hearing is muffling the speech, it is because of the face mask.  The face mask isn’t allowing the words to get projected and the cloth muffles the sound.

A second reason for muffled speech is that the person who is talking behind the mask may not be able to open their mouth enough and articulate.  Poor articulation along with lack of projection muffles the speech and is hard for anyone to understand what is being said.

Solution for the muffled speech:  This is a tough situation as I said for anyone listening to this type of speech.  I would go with the direct approach and just let the person know I can’t understand what they are saying.  Let them know it is hard to understand people with a face-mask on, just in case they don’t know that and secondly let them know you have a hearing loss.  Again know that people with normal hearing will also have a hard time.

These are really tough times.  We have to wear masks and we have to stay a social distance away from one another to #FlattenTheCurve.  It is important for our lives and others.  It is better that you stay at home, call a friend on the phone with your Bluetooth streaming, set up your TV streamer and watch a good movie, read a book, listening to music, go for a walk, do yoga or some other exercise on YouTube, Facebook, or do something like play a game with your household family member than getting out talking to others anyway.   Go easy on yourself and of course be kind to others.

Looking forward to seeing you all when Covid 19 times are lightened up.  Can’t wait!

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