A study published last month in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science (PNAS) found that loud speaking causes an increased number of respiratory droplets in the air, ones that may spread COVID-19. Researchers found that louder speech produced larger droplets, as well as greater quantities of them, and that these droplets could potentially linger in the air for up to 14 minutes.
HHTM recently connected with Dr. Archelle Georgiou, Chief Health Officer at Starkey, to weigh in on the findings and what it could mean for people with hearing loss and the professionals that serve them.
Dr. Georgiou has played an active role in researching and tracking COVID-19, working with the University of Minnesota to develop a nationwide hospitalization tracker that can help states evaluate best practices for re-opening.
HHTM: Based upon this new research, what concerns you the most about the risks of COVID-19 infection among people with hearing loss?
Individuals with hearing loss may have an increased risk of exposure and infection with COVID-19.
Here’s why: When an individual with hearing loss is talking, their conversation partners often increase their own speech volume in order to help assure effective communication. So, if exposed to an individual harboring COVID-19, this louder talking, while well-intended, results in a greater volume of virus-containing respiratory droplets in the air and therefore increases the risk of virus transmission.
Intuitively, this suggests that hearing aids may decrease the risk of infection by eliminating or decreasing the need for conversation partners to speak loudly.
HHTM: When working with patients with hearing loss, what advice should physicians and hearing healthcare professionals be giving to patients to reduce the risk of spreading and catching COVID-19?
There are 4 recommendations that ALL professionals should suggest to ALL patients to reduce the risk of spreading and catching COVID-19…I call them the 4 S’s:
- Soap & water. Wash your hands (or use disinfectant wipes) at least 10 times per day.
- Social distance. Maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from others.
- Screen for symptoms. Be aware of subtle, early signs of COVID-19 and stay home.
- Shield your face. Wear a mask when socializing indoors and outside when it is difficult to maintain a social distance. This is particularly important for individuals with hearing loss since others around them are speaking more loudly and they may be exposed to a greater concentration of respiratory droplets.
And…an extra S… for patients with hearing loss…
- Slip on your hearing aids. Hearing and communicating effectively is more important now than ever before.
- The airborne lifetime of small speech droplets and their potential importance in SARS-CoV-2 transmission. , , , Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Jun 2020, 117 (22) 11875-11877; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2006874117
Archelle Georgiou, MD, is the Chief Health Officer for Starkey. She is responsible for Starkey’s initiative to improve individuals’ overall wellness and quality of life through its products and better hearing. She develops and maintains strategic relationships within the medical community, oversees the Healthable features embedded in the company’s hearing aids, and brings hearing health to the forefront of overall health.