Hearing Muffled Voices?


Face masks are critical in slowing the spread of COVID-19, but they also make communication more difficult. Face masks muffle high-frequency speech sounds and block visual cues, making hearing and understanding speech more challenging. Here are some tips to improve hearing and communication while wearing masks.

Schedule a Hearing Test

With everyone wearing masks and social distancing, you may have had some difficulty hearing friends, colleagues, or family members. For instance, while standing 6 feet apart during a meeting or talking to a clerk behind a mask or plexiglass, you may struggle to hear or understand  what is being said. This can be a sign of hearing loss and is a good opportunity to schedule a baseline hearing test. Identifying and treating hearing loss early is the best prognosis for success with hearing loss treatment. 

Choose the Right Mask

Not all masks affect sound in the same way, and depending on the material or fabric of the mask, some masks are better than others. In a recent study, researchers at the Illinois Augmented Listening Laboratory at the University of Illinois found that the best masks for hearing are surgical masks, which are made of nonwoven polypropylene fibers, the KN95 mask, and light cloth masks made of 100% cotton. The most unfavorable masks, which attenuated the most sounds, were N95 respirators made of thick non-woven material, cotton/spandex blends, and masks made of thick woven cotton, such as denim. Additionally, if you or a loved one rely on lip reading and visual cues, consider using a mask with a clear panel or a clear face shield in order to enable lip reading and facial cues.

Use Effective Communication Strategies 

Remember to use effective communication strategies, which are important for individuals with hearing loss, at all times and especially during a pandemic. Reduce background noise as much as possible. Face the person you are speaking with and speak clearly, loudly, and slowly if necessary. 

Visit Your Audiologist 

If you have hearing loss and wear hearing aids, speak to your audiologist about making adjustments to your hearing aid programming.  Many hearing aids can now be programmed with a special “mask” setting, which boosts the mid and high frequencies that are important for speech understanding.  Your audiologist can also activate a volume control or program button on your hearing aid, or assist you in downloading a compatible smartphone App that can be used as a remote control for your hearing aids. 

Use an Assistive Listening Device

Using a pocket talker, lapel microphone, or remote microphone can help amplify speech even with a mask. The Illinois researchers found that the use of a microphone helped preserve high-frequency speech cues with all types of masks. Lapel microphones and remote microphones can be used in a classroom, meeting, auditorium, or other settings.

Bring Along a Communication Partner

When attending an important event, meeting, or doctor’s appointment, consider bringing along a friend or family member. A communication partner can help ensure that you don’t miss important information or details.

For more information about masks and hearing, or to schedule an appointment, contact us at 516-387-4000 or www.comprehensiveaudiology.com/make-appointment/