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Madison Visits WCNC Charlotte Today

Questions About Masks and Hearing Loss

Levine Hearing
Levine Hearing

You’ve seen an increase in patients seeking hearing help this year, right? Why do you think that is?

Masks and plexiglass. I’m sure that almost everyone watching today has experienced some trouble understanding someone with a mask on. Even people with normal hearing notice that masks muffle speech and those with hearing loss are having an even tougher time.

Tell me about that. What is a mask really doing to make sounds muffled?

The simplest explanation is that masks are blocking high frequency sounds. Unfortunately, in the English language, the vast majority of our speech clarity comes from those high frequencies. When you can’t tell if someone said “Like”, “Life” or “ Light”, it’s those high frequency letters like K, F, & T that are not being carried.

That is really difficult. How is it affecting people? What are they saying?

People are frustrated. When they can get out and try to socialize a little bit, with masks on, they have trouble fully understanding the conversation, catching a joke, answering a question. And when they are at work, they are getting concerned. Did they hear “15” or “50”, it can make a big difference at the end of the day. And if they had a hearing loss already, this has just compounded the problem.

What are some ways for people to overcome the clarity issue?

Because of the issue of hearing with masks, so many people have realized that they need to get their hearing tested. If I prescribe hearing aids, I can actually put a “mask” setting in so that those same frequencies that got crushed by a mask, {Mask mode screencast} can be highlighted by the hearing aid. It can actually overcome that clarity issue. And if someone already has hearing aids, for most, we can still put a setting in for them.

Now, there are so many masks out there, are some better than others?

The engineering school at the University of Illinois released a recent study that showed how different masks affect speech. The surgical masks were the easiest to hear clearly through, followed by cotton, then N95s, and the most difficult are face shields. They just bounce the sound right back at the speaker.

What do you recommend if someone is having trouble understanding through a mask?

Number one is to get a hearing test. My screening is free in my office and honestly, everyone needs a baseline test. We can really see behind the scenes to see why clarity has become such an issue and in many cases we can correct it.

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