Under ordinary circumstances, when someone begins to have trouble with their hearing, that individual tends to avoid treatment. Instead of seeking treatment, they develop coping strategies to communicate. The strategies enable them to understand enough to get through their days. What would happen if something took those strategies away?

Anyone struggling with untreated hearing loss knows I didn’t just describe a hypothetical scenario. The pandemic has made it necessary to rely on our ears to communicate. That’s a real problem when you’re living with untreated hearing loss. Here are the reasons the pandemic has made people more aware of their hearing loss.

Facial Expressions Aren’t Visible

During the early stages of hearing loss, it’s natural to start leaning more heavily on visual cues to communicate. Looking at facial expressions can be particularly useful. Sometimes, facial expressions provide enough information to figure out what cannot be heard.  Facial expressions also help us put the words we can hear into context. Since face masks conceal our facial expressions, people struggling with their hearing have lost this coping strategy.

Conventional Masks and Lip-Reading Aren’t Compatible

Lip-reading is another common coping strategy for people with hearing loss. Many depend on lip-reading to stay employed, maintain personal relationships, and handle errands. Once face masks took away this coping strategy, some found not being able to lip-read disrupted their lives.

Mask Wearers Sound Like They’re Mumbling

Masks block a portion of the sound we produce. For example, masks make it difficult to hear high-pitched consonants like s, f, and h. In many cases, hearing loss begins with losing the ability to hear high-pitched sounds. Yet, most people with hearing loss can hear low-pitched sounds like vowels. The result is they can hear that a mask wearer is speaking, but it sounds like the speaker is mumbling.

These Communication Barriers Cause Hardship

These challenges are creating real hardship for the hard of hearing community. Employees who can’t understand co-workers and customers risk losing jobs. Emergency room patients didn’t receive care promptly due to mask-related communication problems. Also, pandemic-related communication barriers increase the risk of social isolation that’s typically associated with hearing loss.

Resolving These Issues

A long-term solution is necessary to address these challenges, but we are not against the use of face masks. Big Thicket Hearing Aids and Audiology supports the use of face masks and PPE to protect our community from COVID-19. Proposed solutions like face masks with clear windows don’t completely address the issues. Transparent face masks muffle sound like conventional ones. When the clear panel becomes foggy, clear masks create the same problems as traditional masks.

Treating hearing loss is the only way to solve these problems truly. At our hearing center, we can evaluate your hearing and provide you with treatment options. If you or a loved one has been struggling or complaining that others are mumbling, contact us to schedule a comprehensive hearing assessment. We place a high priority on the safety of our patients and staff. Our team members are wearing disposable masks and gloves when providing care. That’s just one of the protocols we’ve instituted for in-person appointments.

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Dr. Joni A. Ruiz AuD

Dr. Joni A. Ruiz AuD

Dr. Joni Ruiz is the owner and doctor of audiology at Big Thicket Hearing Aids and Audiology. She earned her doctorate of audiology in 2009 from Lamar University in Beaumont, TX. Selected for a prestigious fourth-year externship at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., Dr. Ruiz has more than ten years’ experience as an audiologist. She has a heart for patient-centered care. At her hearing care practice, she performs comprehensive diagnostic audiological evaluations, provides aural rehabilitation to her patients and their loved ones, dispenses state of the art hearing aids, and manages the care of said devices for their life. Dr. Ruiz is dedicated to patient education regarding hearing loss, hearing protection, and hearing aid selection.
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