How the Pandemic Exposes Hearing Loss


COVID has revealed underlying health conditions for many. Just consider how the pandemic exposes hearing loss.

You wear your mask when you go out – sometimes two of them – and you generally don’t mind. The only trouble is sometimes it’s hard to hear what other people are saying. When you go to the grocery store or visit your doctor’s office, it is hard to hear the voices of cashiers and receptionists. Their voices are distorted. Sometimes, it’s so bad you can barely understand a single word. Of course, they’re wearing masks, too. Our face coverings aren’t really at fault, however. The real problem may lie with your hearing. Or, to put it another way: those muffled voices you hear during the pandemic may be exposing your hearing loss.

Masks muffle speech

Most good masks are designed to stop the spread of airborne particles or water droplets. In the case of COVID-19, that’s pretty useful because most evidence points toward water droplets as the culprit (although the science on the spread is still being conducted, so all results are preliminary). As a result, masks have proven very effective at curtailing and preventing the spread of Covid-19.

Unfortunately, those same masks hinder the movement of sound waves. Masks can slightly muffle the human voice. For most people, it’s not a big deal. But if you have hearing loss and muffled voices suddenly surround you, it may be difficult for you to understand anything being said.

Your brain compensates for hearing loss

The impediment of soundwaves probably isn’t the sole reason you’re having trouble understanding someone wearing a mask. There’s more to it than that. You see, the brain is very good at compensating for changes in your hearing – to a point.

Without your awareness, your brain uses contextual information to help you understand what’s being said, even if you can’t hear it. Body language, facial expressions, even lip movements are all synthesized by your brain automatically to help you compensate for what you can’t hear.

When someone is wearing a mask, many of those linguistic cues are obscured. You can’t see the shape of someone’s lips or the position of the mouth. You can’t even tell if it’s a smile or a frown behind the mask.

Mental fatigue is a symptom of hearing loss

Without that added information, it’s harder for your brain to compensate for the audio information you aren’t receiving automatically. That means you’re more likely to hear nothing but mumbles. 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 significant mental fatigue – sometimes resulting in irritability or memory loss. With masks in place, your brain will become even more exhausted. (It’s important to remember masks are essential protection – so keep them on!)

Solutions from your hearing specialist

The pandemic is exposing hearing loss by bringing these issues to your attention. It’s not creating the condition in the first place, but it’s not always noticeable because hearing loss typically progresses quite slowly. When your hearing initially begins to diminish, you may ignore the symptoms and turn up the volume on the television (you may not even realize you’re doing it).

That’s why it’s essential to visit your hearing specialist regularly. Because of the types of screenings they perform, a hearing specialist can detect issues with your hearing early – often before your hearing loss becomes noticeable.

This is especially true for anyone currently having difficulty understanding conversations through a mask. Your hearing specialist will be able to test for hearing damage and offer therapies and solutions to help you navigate a masked world. Hearing aids, for example, can provide significant benefits, allowing you to regain much of your functional hearing range. Hearing aids will make it much easier to hear – and understand – the voices behind the masks.

Keep your mask on

As the pandemic exposes hearing loss, it’s essential to remember you must keep your mask on. Local governments require masks because they save lives. We are tempted to take off our masks if we can’t hear– and that’s not safe.

So keep your mask on. Make an appointment with your hearing specialist. Get your hearing loss treated. These efforts will inevitably improve your quality of life – and help keep you safe, as well.

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