Clear Face Masks May Improve Communication for People With Hearing Loss
Face masks have become a part of our everyday lives, but they create challenges for people with hearing loss. One of the greatest challenges is how face masks obscure facial expressions and mouth movements that aid in communication. In addition, the use of a face mask can decrease a speaker’s volume by up to 10 decibels, making it harder to be heard. Alternatively, clear face “shields” keep the speaker’s face visible; however, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn’t endorse wearing shields, saying they may not be as effective as face masks at preventing the spread of COVID-19.
Are transparent face masks the solution?
Masks with clear plastic panels are a good way to lessen the spread of viruses while keeping the mouth visible. A clear plastic panel is positioned within the mask and situated so expressions and lip movements can be seen. Although this may seem like a novel idea, it isn’t new to the medical world. Clear face masks have been in use since the 1930s, helping to improve communication in medical settings and protect clinicians during patient examinations. Today, many companies produce clear face masks for both clinical and personal use.
Clear masks aren’t perfect
While face masks with clear panels are useful for people who read lips, they have a downside. A study published in Audiology Today found that clear face masks block more sound than other types of face masks. Specifically, clear face masks blocked twice as much sound as an N95 mask and up to four times as much as a cloth surgical mask. If a face shield is worn along with a clear face mask, sound volume decreases even further. Therefore, if you have hearing loss, you could find it difficult to understand someone who is wearing a clear face mask, especially if you don’t read lips or aren’t close enough to see the speaker’s mouth.
Tips for selecting a clear face mask
If a clear face mask is right for you, there are some things to consider when selecting one. First, look for materials that don’t fog up when you speak or breathe. Otherwise, the mask’s intended transparency is obscured. If you find the plastic fogs over when you speak, try rubbing a thin layer of dishwashing detergent or shaving cream on the plastic, then wiping it off with a paper towel.
Next, consider how the face mask fits around your ears. If you wear a behind-the-ear hearing aid, you may want to wear a face mask that ties at the back of your head instead of looping around your ears. This will relieve the pressure on your ears and prevent your hearing aid from being dislodged when adjusting or removing your mask.
Finally, you can purchase a commercially produced clear face mask or select a clinical-grade mask cleared by the FDA. A handmade mask is also a viable alternative for everyday use. You can make one yourself using one of many online tutorials or other helpful resources.
Face masks with clear windows can improve communication for people with hearing loss who must rely on facial expressions and lip reading for understanding. However, this style of face mask can also decrease sound volume, making it difficult for people with hearing loss to understand conversation. Only you can decide what makes the most sense for your needs. If you are still having trouble, contact us to learn how we can help make Everyday Sounds Better.