St. Louis couple wearing masks

Hearing Health News

We’ve written previously about how helpful lipreading can be. No matter how well you hear, you get help from lipreading, even if you don’t realize it. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, though, many people are wearing face masks. So how do you read lips? You don’t.

According to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal by reporter Sarah Needleman, everyone’s having trouble hearing each other. Masks, though important to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, muffle speech. Masks also cover up most of the facial expression people use to interpret meaning and emotion. With much of the face covered, it’s almost as if everyone has a mild hearing loss.

Misunderstandings can lead to frustration and even anger. Needleman gave several examples: “I couldn’t understand her, so I said thank you and left.” At a grocery store, a shopper couldn’t understand the cashier: “I was embarrassed because I go there often.” People with hearing loss understand the temptation to just smile and feign understanding. Now, with face masks, people with excellent hearing are beginning to understand these communication problems.

These communication challenges from masks are even greater if you have a hearing loss. But here’s some good news: Manufacturers are producing face masks with a clear window that preserves most lipreading cues. For more information, please contact our office.

Suggestions for Your Family and Friends

Most people don’t understand what hearing loss is like. People with normal hearing who want to be helpful simply don’t know what it’s like to hear but not understand, or to hear well in one situation but not in another.

Although hearing aids are your most important source for help, your family, friends, and coworkers are also important. Here are some suggestions you can share with the people around you to improve communication.

  • Be polite: “Please get my attention before talking to me. This allows me to prepare to listen.”
  • Be in the same room: “Please don’t speak to me from another room. It’s simply too difficult when you’re far away and out of sight. I may hear you call me — but I won’t understand what you say!”
  • Don’t talk fast: “I often have to figure out what someone said and I can’t keep up with a fast talker. One of my most important tips: slow down!”
  • Face me: “I understand more easily if I can see your face. And please don’t chew gum, smoke, or cover your mouth — it makes lipreading much more difficult.”
  • Come closer: “When you stand a little closer, your voice is louder and lipreading is much easier. Someone three feet away is twice as easy to understand as someone eight feet away.”
  • Reduce background noise: “When you speak with me, please turn off the television, radio, or air conditioner. Hearing in noise is much harder for me than it is for you!”
  • Hearing is not the same as understanding. “I heard you, but I didn’t understand you. People who don’t speak clearly or who talk fast are difficult for me.”

We hope you’ll show these tips to your family and friends. It could make your life just a little bit easier.