While this especially affects people who have difficulty hearing, everyone relies on lip reading at least 50 per cent, says uMhlanga based audiologist, Heidi Allan.

“Research shows that we are losing about 12 per cent of sound when we are wearing masks, which is a challenge for everyone but particularly for those with hearing difficulties. Another challenge for hearing aid users is that taking masks on and off often means that hearing aids get hooked on the mask and can easily get lost. It is important to wear a mask that does not hook over the ears or wear a mask extender which fits behind the head,” said Allan.

She hopes to raise awareness of the needs of those with changing hearing ability.

“This is particularly relevant in this time of the Covid-19 crisis where communication has become significantly challenging with the use of masks as part of the fight against the spread of the disease. We all lip read at least 50 per cent of the time and as our hearing changes so our reliance on lip reading increases. This has become so much more challenging in the era of mask wearing,” she said.

Practicing tolerance is important as people learn to cope with the challenges posed by masks.

“All of us, whether we have typical hearing or not, have been affected by the reduced contact and communication with those around us. Make sure that you look at the person you are talking to, slow your rate of speech, slightly increase the volume of your voice and smile as this carries through in your speech and passes on to the person you are communicating with. Be aware that not everyone is able to hear and communicate in the same way that you do – be tolerant and understanding of those with differences,” said Allan.

It is also important for people with hearing impairments to communicate their needs to others, said Allan.

“It is important that patients with hearing difficulty let others know that communicating with a mask is difficult for them. They can wear a sticker on their mask showing that they have hearing difficulties. When communicating, they need to move away from a noisy area to a quieter one to make communication easier,” she said, While the mask has had a negative effect on those with hearing challenges, there have been some positives that have come out of the lockdown period, said Allan. “With our initial need to remain physically distanced from our patients or patients’ reluctance to travel outside of their homes, there has been the development of remote care for hearing aid users,” she said.

Remote care allows audiologists to adjust hearing instruments to meet the needs of the patients, even when the patient is at home and the audiologist is in the practice, she added. Allan has been a practicing audiologist for more than 30 years.

This story was originally featured in the Northglen News: