The Challenges of Hearing Through a Mask

Apr 27, 2020

Last week I left my house to pick up a prescription at the pharmacy drive through window while  wearing a disposable paper mask. The pharmacy technician could not understand me, so to  communicate effectively, I untied the mask. Granted, we were talking through a glass window,  but this alerted me to the fact that if someone with normal hearing could not understand me,  communication will pose great challenges when we return to the workplace.  

Most people who enter our office have difficulty hearing. Talking through a mask muffles  speech, which creates a barrier to overcome. Visualizing the mouth while having a conversation  gives cues for communicating. The masks that we recently ordered have a clear window over the  mouth. We’re confident that using these masks will help, however, this is far from an ideal  solution. 

We are quite concerned about what our patients are experiencing right now. With social  distancing, we are communicating at a distance of six feet which is difficult if not impossible  with a loss of hearing. Going to the grocery store, socializing with others, or processing and  collecting information at a medical appointment is more difficult than it used to be. If the  conversation is not understood, ask the person to write down what is being said. Request a  written summary after any medical visit. 

Thinking about the future is important for us so that we can plan for communicating with our  patients. Masks pose so many concerns. Talking on the phone while wearing a mask makes  conversation sound mushy. Wearing a mask is uncomfortable. Eyeglasses steam up. The list goes  on. We will need to have a generous supply of masks on hand. Anyone who walks through the  door of our office will need a mask to enter. A huge shout out and thank you to our partners at  Starkey Hearing Technologies for making it possible to obtain the personal protection equipment  that we will need before opening our doors. 

We are all going to have to try a little harder. Remember to speak slowly and distinctly. Face the  person you are talking to. Don’t turn your head when you are having a conversation. Ask the  person who you are communicating with if they understood your directions. 

We all look forward to the future when life becomes a little easier. Until then, be cognizant of the  communication difficulties created by wearing a mask. Be patient. Be kind. We all deserve it.