Welcome to the Club, “Hearing People”!

Have you been shocked at how masks seem to muffle the sound of what people are saying?  Are you amazed at how, when someone puts on a mask, you can’t understand everything they say?

You’re a hearing person (that’s how we people with hearing loss refer to you people who don’t have hearing problems). Or so you thought up until now that Covid has wormed its nasty way into our society.

According to a story in WPRI.com news, hearing health professionals are seeing more people in their clinics who are worried that they may have hearing loss sooner than they’re supposed to. Without realizing it, they may have developed mild or early hearing loss, and they have been able to unknowingly compensate by speechreading or being physically close to the speaker. Perhaps they didn’t notice that the TV has had to be a bit louder than before.

Then came the spring, and boom—pandemic! Pow—masks! Kaboom—stand 6 feet apart! All of a sudden, you realize that speech from behind the mask is a little unclear, to the point that you might not “catch” a couple of words. This is partly due to ‘speech degradation’ by the mask’s material. People with ‘typical’ hearing can still discern what is being said in spite of the slight muffling of speech. However, people with even a mild hearing loss will hear the sounds being made but may not discriminate the speech sounds enough to identify every word.

If this is you, you’re not alone. Don’t panic. You may think you’re too young to have hearing loss, but the truth is, there is no such thing as too young. Hearing loss is very common as we age, most notably making its appearance in our 60s, but in today’s noisy society, people are experiencing hearing issues at younger and younger ages. And it’s a fact that people don’t rush to see the hearing professional at the first hint of hearing loss; in fact most people put that off for years because they can ‘get by’ or ‘it’s not bad enough’ or they don’t even realize they have it.

The pandemic may be shortening that process for many people.

If you suspect that you have a hearing loss, or if you’re struggling in our new masked society, here are a few things you can do.

  • Don’t panic – this is worth repeating. You’re not going deaf. Help is available.
  • Make an appointment with a local hearing clinic. If you know people with hearing loss, ask if they like their audiologist and go see that person.
  • You can also ask your family doctor for a referral, but here’s an important thing to know about that. If your doctor says your hearing is fine ‘for your age’, say “thank you but I would like to have an evaluation.” If you think you’ve got a hearing issue, it’s important to check it out.
  • After the hearing assessment, the professional will discuss your hearing levels with you and the two of you can agree on a course of action, which may include coming back in a year or so for another assessment to see if there are any changes. Or, you may agree to trying some technology, which doesn’t necessarily mean a hearing aid. 

In the meantime, there are ways to address the problem of masks covering people’s lower half of their face. For people who depend even in a small way on speechreading, this means the key sources of visual speech information—our mouth, lips, teeth, jaw and complete facial expressions—have been eliminated. What to do?

  • If you try to bluff your way through the conversation, you run the risk of misinterpreting what might be important information. Unless you’re certain that all the cashier has said is “have a nice day”, it makes good sense to ask for clarification.
  • If you are still having a problem, it is perfectly acceptable to say, “I am having trouble understanding you. Since we are separated by a shield and/or 6 feet, could you lower you mask for a moment and repeat what you said?”
  • In really difficult situations, use a speech-to-text app such as Otter on your smartphone, which will translate the speaker into the printed word.

Having a hearing loss is common. Today’s hearing technology is simply amazing, with a huge array of options. So, stay calm and carry on. Have a hearing assessment.

And if people like me then get to say to you, “welcome to our club”, we do so with compassion, support, and lots of funny stories!

 

(Please pass this article along to anyone who you think might need to read it.)

About Gael Hannan

Gael Hannan is a writer, speaker and advocate on hearing loss issues. In addition to her weekly blog for HearingHealthMatters.org, which has an international following, Gael wrote the acclaimed book "The Way I Hear It: A Life with Hearing Loss". She is regularly invited to present her uniquely humorous and insightful work to appreciative audiences around the world. Gael has received many awards for her work, which includes advocacy for a more inclusive society for people with hearing loss. She lives with her husband on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.

4 Comments

  1. I disagree with the person who said most won’t pull down the mask. If needed, they do so with pleasure. People truly love to help! :)

  2. A personal amplifier similar to a Williams Sound Pocketalker Ultra helps for those who do not wear hearing aids when talking to someone with a mask who is 6′ away. They are sold over the internet including a headset. I wear hearing aids one in each ear but when I travel I carry a Pocketalker with my headset in case my hearing aids bottom out.

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