For the roughly 48 million Americans with hearing loss, communication is challenging enough under the best of circumstances. The global coronavirus pandemic has created additional unexpected obstacles.

Many hard of hearing individuals rely on lip reading in order to communicate with others. With the CDC recommending people wear face masks to help slow the spread of COVID-19, it’s extremely difficult for these individuals to follow conversations. Even those who are well-versed in American Sign Language are having trouble, as facial expressions play a key role in communicating.

Furthermore, those who have some degree of hearing ability and don’t need to read lips still struggle to understand the muffled speech that masks create. For people who wear hearing aids, simply putting on a face mask can be difficult; the most popular styles have loops that circle the ears, but these can easily dislodge hearing devices.

Custom-fit earpieces can be made by your audiologist to offer more stability and lessen your chances of losing your devices. Clip protectors can also attach the hearing aids to the back of clothing. Yes, another thing to attach, but it provides peace of mind. However, the best face mask for hearing aid wearers is the type that is tied around the back of the head to keep the ears fairly free.

Six-foot social distancing requirements further exacerbate the problem. Old-school methods such as writing down questions on a pad of paper and passing them back and forth are no longer permitted, due to basic contact-spreading protocol. Of course, one workaround for that would be to simply not pass a pen and paper back and forth, rather doctor and patient each having their own set as visual aids. Though, it’s a backup plan, at best.

The best way to communicate if the face is not visible is to utilize technology that allows the hearing aid wearer to hear a person directly inside their ears with their hearing aids. Most current hearing aids have Bluetooth or FM capabilities. This allows a person to extend a small, low-cost convenient mic (about two inches) in the direction of the person speaking, or place it across the room close to the speaker, allowing conversation to be boosted for the hearing impaired.

FM capabilities are similar but allow for a greater distance between the speaker and the listener with hearing aids. Some hearing aids also allow your smartphone to be used as an extra microphone and transmits a person speaking at a reasonable distance. The advantage of this is no additional cost to the hearing aids user.

Another barrier involves interpreters. With most hospitals refusing to allow visitors or facing shrinking budgets because of non-elective surgery ordinances, people who have relied on interpreters to communicate with medical staff suddenly find themselves alone.

Medical experts recommend certain strategies for the hearing impaired, such as downloading speech-to-text apps for their smartphones and leaving home with a written script prepared in advance.

One solution might involve the very source of the problem: face masks. Some manufacturers have introduced transparent see-through masks that offer full-face visibility via a protective plastic panel, and have even gone so far as to include anti-fogging properties that prevent heat and moisture from fogging up the covering.

Last but not least is the use of teleaudiology. Though not as personal, it allows the hearing aid user to have their appointment in the comfort of their home via video conference on their smartphone. No masks need to be worn by either party. As long as the issues can be addressed remotely, the user is able to see their audiologist, connect to their smartphone in order to hear their best, and read facial expressions. This feature is accessible in most of the newer devices and is easily set up by your audiologist.

If you have difficulty hearing or are considering hearing aids, please call Dr. Andrea Livingston at 863-386-9111 today to schedule an appointment.