How to Hear Through a Facemask | Hearing Loss & Facemasks

Most COVID-19 guidelines call for six feet of social distancing whenever possible, and in most medical centers and health clinics, both the doctors and patients are required to wear some type of masks. This could be a simple face covering, or an N-95 mask.

How will the policies at hospitals and health clinics that require masks and face shields affect your ability to hear your doctor?

Facemasks and Hearing Loss

So I took my smartphone and used the sound level meter from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. I recorded the volume of my voice from six feet away without any mask, with a simple mask, and with an N-95 mask. My results clearly showed that having a mask over your face affects the clarity of speech when you’re trying to listen to your doctor.

A simple mask is easier for the acoustic signal to pass through. But a thicker mask, like the N-95 mask, is harder for sound to pass through clearly.

Whether you have normal hearing or some degree of hearing loss, we all use facial cues to understand a spoken message. If I were speaking to you right now, you would be looking at my lips, looking at my face. And that would help you to be sure whatever sounds you’re hearing are matching with what I’m saying.

When I’m wearing a mask over my face and you’re trying to listen to me speak, your brain has to work a little harder to understand the message completely.

This leaves us with a dilemma: how do you hear through a face mask when it’s not only muffling the sound, but blocking facial movements that would normally help us out?

Dr. Ben Thompson, Au.D.

Dr. Ben Thompson, Au.D.

Dr. Ben Thompson is an audiologist in California and founder of Pure Tinnitus. Dr. Thompson has a comprehensive knowledge of tinnitus management. He completed his residency at University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) and is a past board member of the California Academy of Audiology. Via telehealth, Dr. Thompson provides services to patients with hearing loss and tinnitus.

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