Why Do Masks Make it Difficult to Communicate?

Why Do Masks Make it Difficult to Communicate?

In Communication, Tips & Tricks by Jennifer G. Mayer, Au.D., CCC-A

Jennifer G. Mayer, Au.D., CCC-A

Many find it important for their own health and the health of others to wear a face mask in public, however it does add obstacles in communication for people with and without hearing issues.

Masks and Muffled Speech

To prevent the spread of COVID-19 a mask must be worn over the nose and mouth, however this can make the words coming out of people’s mouths difficult to understand. The layers of fabric directly against the mouth can impede breath control and diffuses sound. In addition to distortion in speech the fabric can also affect small muscle movements around the mouth and jaw subtly changing the sounds of words. For people with hearing loss this added muffle compounds their hearing issues.

Masking Visual Cues

Maybe you don’t realize it, but many of us rely on visual cues to help us hear. For people with hearing issues, this often comes in the form of facial expression to interpret intent and lip reading as added clarification of sounds. Many people with undiagnosed hearing loss don’t realize how much they have come to rely on these visual cues until they are concealed under a mask.

Hearing is Harder in Background Noise

Many of us are limiting our time in crowded places to slow the spread of the virus, however there are still many instances where you may find yourself trying to communicate in a crowded or noisy environment, like a grocery store, bank or post office. Most businesses require masks in order to keep people safe but this can make it extremely difficult to hear, adding extra obstacles for those with hearing loss. Many people rely on visual cues in crowded spaces to compensate for what we can’t hear. This  makes wearing a mask very challenging, especially when speech is already muffled under fabric.

Wearing a Mask with Hearing Aids

For those who use hearing aids, masks can have added challenges. Not all styles of masks are compatible for hearing aid users, especially those who wear behind-the-ear hearing aids. A facemask with elastic, which stretches around the ears, can cause irritation and an increased risk of losing an expensive and important hearing aid. It is all too easy to forget you are wearing the hearing aid and dislodge damage or lose it while removing a mask. It may be easier and less of a risk for hearing aid users to choose a mask, which uses four strings rather than elastic loops behind the ear to avoid damage and problems with hearing aids. There are also button extensions available for masks, which connect the elastic hoops together behind your head, without having to rely on the loops being worn on the ears. It’s important to remove your mask in a safe and quiet place so you can easily retrieve a hearing aid if it does become dislodged or lost.

How to Communicate While Wearing Masks

Wearing a mask can make it difficult for anyone to hear what you are saying, however there are some important communication tools you can use to ensure that people have more of an advantage to hearing what you are saying. 

When possible lower the noise level of your environment so you don’t have to struggle to speak over competing noise. Turn down the radio and wait to run the dishwasher till it is not a social moment. If you are speaking to someone who is having trouble hearing you speak through your mask, make sure to slow down so they have more time to comprehend each word. 

In addition, using body language such as hand gestures can improve people’s ability to follow your words. Make sure your mask is tight fitting, as a looser mask can impede other’s ability to see your cheeks and jaw, which actually gives people visual cues as to what you are saying. If wearing a mask is becoming too much of an inconvenience, there are a number of transparent masks which are approved to protect your mouth and nose while allowing people to read your lips and facial expressions in order to enhance the effectiveness of communication. 

Schedule a Hearing Test

Yes, it is true that masks make it hard to communicate but an untreated hearing loss will make it incredibly frustrating. However, trouble hearing with a mask could be a sign that it is time to have your hearing checked.  Don’t let your hearing loss go untreated! Schedule a hearing test with us today.