Generally, you don’t mind wearing a mask (or sometimes even two) when you go out. The only trouble is, sometimes it’s hard to hear what other people are saying. When you go to the supermarket or doctor’s appointment, the voices of cashiers and receptionists are muffled, even distorted. In some cases, it’s so bad you can barely perceive a single word. They’re also wearing masks, of course. However, the mask might not be the exclusive source of your trouble. It might be your hearing that’s the problem. Or, to say it another way: those muffled voices you hear during the pandemic could be exposing your hearing loss.
Masks Muffle Speech
Most quality masks are made to prevent the spread of airborne particles or water droplets. In the instance of COVID-19, that’s pretty beneficial because most evidence points toward water droplets as a prominent factor (although the science on the spread is still being carried out, so all results are preliminary). As a result, masks have proven very effective at curtailing and stopping the spread of COVID-19.
But masks obviously can stop the movement of sound waves. Masks can slightly muffle the human voice. It’s not really much of a problem for most people. But if hearing loss is a problem for you and muffled voices are suddenly all around you, it might be difficult for you to understand anything being said.
Your Brain Compensates For Hearing Loss
The impediment of sound waves probably isn’t the only reason you’re having trouble understanding someone wearing a mask. It’s more involved than that. You see, the brain is really good at compensating for changes in your hearing, up to a point.
Even if you’re unable to hear what’s happening, your brain will put the event into context and use that information to interpret what’s being said. Your brain will synthesize things like facial expressions, body language, and particularly lip movements to compensate for what it can’t hear.
When somebody is wearing a mask, many of those linguistic cues are obscured. The position of somebody’s mouth and the movements of their lips is unseen. You don’t even know if they are smiling or frowning.
Your brain has a very difficult time attempting to interpret what’s being said without that extra visual information. So mumbling is probably all you will hear. Even if your brain can, somehow, make sense of what was said, your brain will get tired.
Under normal circumstances, a continuously compensating brain can cause considerable mental fatigue, often resulting in impatience or loss of memory. Your brain will become even more exhausted when everyone is wearing a mask (but keep it on because it’s essential for community protection).
The pandemic is revealing hearing loss by bringing these issues to your attention. It’s not causing the condition in the first place, but it might have otherwise gone undetected because hearing loss commonly progresses relatively slowly. In the early phases of hearing loss we usually don’t even detect it and often start turning up the volume on our devices (you may not even know you’re doing it).
This is the reason why coming in to see us regularly is so important. We can diagnose early hearing loss, often before you even notice it, because of the screenings we do.
If you’re having a difficult time hearing what people are saying when they’re wearing a mask, this is especially true. Together we can find ways to make you more comfortable speaking with people who are wearing a mask. For example, hearing aids can help you regain a lot of your functional hearing range and can supply other significant benefits. Voices behind the mask will be easier to hear and comprehend with hearing aids.
Keep Your Mask on
As the pandemic reveals hearing loss, it’s essential to remember you will need to keep your mask on. Masks save lives and are frequently mandated. One of the issues with muffled voices is that people might be tempted to remove their masks, and that’s the last thing we should be doing.
So schedule an appointment with us, wear your hearing aid, and keep your mask on. Sticking with these guidelines will keep you safe and improve your quality of life.