By Dr. Noël Crosby, Au.D.
Wearing a mask with behind the ear hearing aids certainly poses a new challenge. The removal of the mask can dislodge hearing aids. We suspect the ear loops on the masks are the cause of hearing aids to unknowingly come off the ear. While everyone is being mindful of handwashing and contact with others, hearing aids are probably the last thing on your mind when you are focused on getting in and out of public places safely and quickly. Since the use of a mask is now common, we have already received quite a few calls from patients who have lost hearing aids by wearing or removing a mask. This has resulted in our having placed more lost hearing aid insurance claims over the past month than ever before. Most of our patients are quarantining at home and have lost their hearing aids during a brief outing to the grocery store or to attend a doctor’s appointment.
We are recommending that when you remove your mask, you should check that your hearing aids are still on your ears. Whether your mask is homemade or store-bought, the ties or straps may easily get hooked on your hearing aids and dislodge the devices. Make sure your hearing aids are still in place before you leave any location. You can also secure a mask by using an elastic or a band that fits around your head, not over your ears. Please contact my office at 941-474-8393 for additional information about alternative methods of securing a mask.
Thankfully, most hearing aids come with a warranty that includes repair and loss coverage and patients can usually have their lost hearing aids replaced easily. Always have your provider check with the manufacturer of your hearing aids to determine if you have replacement coverage available.
Also, the use of a mask has one unintended consequence: interfering with communication. Most of my audiology patients complain that they understand less if they are unable to watch the speaker’s lips. Technically, it is not lipreading alone that facilitates communication but the listener’s ability to view facial expressions. Speakers wearing a mask do not allow for someone to see half their face, the most important part to facilitate communication. While masks are now a vital health care tool for many people, their use presents a new set of challenges for hard of hearing people, especially ones that depend upon hearing aids.
Only a fraction of English speech is visible on the lips, but that along with the listener’s ability to integrate auditory information completes the communication cycle. For some hearing impaired, especially the elderly, looking at the speaker’s face can make a huge difference. In today’s society it seems normal for people to speak rapidly and not move their lips. People with a hearing loss often have difficulty understanding rapid speech without visual cues as well as the speakers on the television. About 15 percent of the adult American population reports having a hearing loss and a much smaller percentage of these use hearing devices to treat their hearing loss. With the likelihood that face masks will become part of our culture in the future, the need for audiological testing and, in many cases hearing aid use will become more prevalent.
The great news is that there are some masks that have clear plastic that allows the lips of the person wearing the mask to be seen. I am working at acquiring clear masks, please contact my office at (941-474-8393) or (email@example.com) if you would like more information about these masks.
Our world is very different today and we have to adapt to meet the new challenges that the world is currently presenting to us.
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Dr. Noël Crosby, Au.D., owner and audiologist at Advanced Hearing Solutions in Englewood, FL is a licensed professional whose 30 year career has been devoted to helping people of all ages hear and understand more clearly. Dr. Crosby received her BS and MS degrees from FSU and her Doctorate in Audiology from UF. Her credibility as an authority grew during her tenure as the Director of Audiology at the Silverstein Institute in Sarasota, FL from 1991-1998. Today, in addition to managing a successful audiology practice, Dr. Crosby is involved in creating hearing loss awareness through her jewelry and accessory company AuDBling.com. She has served and is serving on various professional boards and committees and was president of the Florida Academy of Audiology in 2000 and 2010. She has been married to Michael for 28 years and has one daughter.