Hearing & Balance Doctors

How Face Masks Can Affect Communication

How Face Masks Can Affect Communication

In response to the current pandemic, many of us are wearing face masks in public places. For people with a hearing loss, this introduces unique challenges: muffled voices, the inability to see mouths and visual speech cues, and the need for extra volume in their hearing aids.

Muffled Voices

Face masks have been shown to decrease the intensity of speech by approximately 10 dB. That is a significant reduction in the volume of a human voice.

In public places, such as retail stores or restaurants, the issue is often compounded by plexiglass shields and other background noise. These conditions make it difficult to communicate even for normal hearing individuals.

Inability to See Mouths and Visual Speech Cues

For the hard of hearing, seeing the mouth move during speech is an important part of listening.

Some people actually read lips, but for most people with a hearing loss, it is less lip reading and more an assistive strategy to help better understand speech.

Visual cues from the mouth and lips help to distinguish, for example, the word “pot” from “cot.” Additionally, facial expressions help provide contextual and emotional information that is often lost with a mask.

The Need for Additional Hearing Aid Help

Muffled voices and masked mouths result in a need for better hearing. Our clinic has found that it is helpful for our hearing aid patients to create a special setting, or “program,” within their existing hearing aids for this purpose.

This special setting often has both increased overall volume as well as a directional microphone pattern to help amplify the voice of the speaker without amplifying too much of the competing ambient noise in the environment.

Sometimes, wireless microphones that can transmit to hearing aids are also helpful in difficult listening situations.

The Most Trusted Team of Hearing & Balance Doctors

Our clinic, Hearing & Balance Doctors, is staffed entirely by doctors of audiology who are specially trained to help improve communication even in difficult circumstances. Call us today for a free consultation: (435) 688-8991.

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Dr. Ryan Whitaker

Dr. Whitaker joined Hearing & Balance Doctors of Utah in 2009. He graduated Summa Cum Laude from Brigham Young University in 2005 with his Bachelors of Science in Audiology and Speech Pathology. He then received his Doctor of Audiology from the University of Arizona where he minored in Cognitive Neuroscience (the study of how people perceive sound). While at the University of Arizona, he specialized in evoked potentials, specifically researching Cortical Auditory Evoked Potentials and the Acoustic Change Complex. He gained clinical experience at Tucson Ear, Nose, and Throat; St. Joseph’s Hospital Balance Center; Arizona Hearing Specialists; and the Center for Hearing Impaired Children. Dr. Whitaker was raised in Orem, Utah with three older sisters and a younger brother (who is also an audiologist). His grandfather was a cartoonist for the Walt Disney Studios where he drew Donald Duck and many characters in Peter Pan, Cinderella, and Alice in Wonderland before starting the BYU Motion Picture Studio. Dr. Whitaker is married and has three sons. He is passionate about college football and also enjoys hiking in Southern Utah, reading, and traveling. He has traveled extensively through South Asia including Thailand, India, Nepal, and a church mission to the Philippines.

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