Ear Research Foundation Blog

Hearing in the Age of COVID-19- Masks Edition



While the Department of Health advises wearing face masks in public and social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 disease, this practice creates further communication difficulties, especially for people who are hard of hearing. The Silverstein Institute and Ear Research Foundation physicians and audiologists strongly suggest taking appropriate measures to interact and connect with people suffering from this disability.

Even before the social distancing orders began, Ms. Maloney, one of our Help Us Hear (HUH) hearing aid recipients, avoided social events with friends and family. She has a litany of excuses prepared to avoid the potentially embarrassing events. Hearing loss is an isolating disability. With the stay at home orders in place, the social disengagement that the hearing-impaired community experiences have compounded. “It’s difficult to talk to people when they’re wearing masks. I would ask them to repeat what they said once or twice. After a while, it can get very embarrassing.” says Ms. McLaren, another HUH patient. Our Help Us Hear program is aimed at providing hearing aids to under-insured patients.

Dr. Rende, The Silverstein Institute’s Director of Audiology and an Ear Research Foundation Volunteer Audiologist, ensures that her audiology team wears clear face masks to assist with patient interaction. “Most of these individuals rely on lipreading, and facial expression as an effective form of communication.” she explains. Masks can distort the sound or the quality of speech, and social distancing at least 6 feet away makes it even more difficult for them to hear or be heard. She further states that the practice also has an increasing number of patients that come for repairs and/or replacement of hearing devices due to ear-loop face masks.

The doctors urge patients to consider the use of newer technology:
Speech to Text Applications – You can download speech-to-text apps smartphone apps that can provide live transcription of conversation to assist the hearing impaired while communicating in public
Hand-Help Amplification – there are handheld devices such as Pocket Talker or SuperEar that allow users to use headphones to amplify sound to their desired volume
Get a hearing help! – Effective intervention with hearing aids or cochlear implants may improve social and emotional function, communication, cognitive function, and quality of life

Unsure about your hearing health?
Schedule an appointment with the Silverstein Institute by calling (941) 366-9222 to see what options fit your lifestyle. The practice offers TeleMedicine virtual appointments as well.

When new technology may not be the best solution, some alternative methods may be effective:
  • Carry a digital or paper sign explaining that masks make it harder for you to understand. This will encourage others to help instead of assuming you are ignoring them.
  • Anticipate types of communication exchanges. Instead of repeating information, request that the information be rephrased.
  • Use gestures, nonverbal communication, and hand signs to help interactions
  • Carry a whiteboard, tablet, or paper and pen as a backup

Advocate for hearing with a communicator friendly face mask:
  • For those who wear hearing aids, use a tie around the head face mask or mask extenders with buttons to attach mask straps instead of using ear-loop face masks to prevent losing your hearing aids.
  • Request clear face masks from the people you interact with

Are you a healthy hearing advocate?
Join Ear Research Foundation’s Hearing Advocate’s Coalition as a founding member with a monthly donation of only $5, $10 or more! Approximately 48,975 adults in Sarasota County are living with hearing loss, and 5,975 of those are living in poverty. The group was initiated to raise money for under-insured patients that need care during these trying times. Upon donating, you will receive a clear face mask as a gift. Wearing this mask will help the hearing-impaired community communicate better.
These masks are made with:
  • a clear window panel to assist in lip reading
  • double layered fabric surrounding anti-fogging PET (CDC recommends at least two layers)
  • tie around the head to reduce the risk of losing hearing aids.
Call Jodel Velarde at (941) 556 4219 or visit www.EarRF.org/HAC to advocate for healthy hearing with your mask!

Reed, N., AuD, Ferrante, L., MD, MHS, & Oh, E., MD, PhD. (2020). Addressing Hearing Loss to Improve Communication During the COVID‐19 Pandemic. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 68(9). doi:https://doi.org/10.1111/jgs.16674
Stern, C. (2020, May 08). 10 Tips for Managing Face Masks and Hearing Loss: CHC blog. Retrieved September 28, 2020, from https://chchearing.org/blog/face-masks-hearing-loss-communication-tips/

Ear Research Foundation
(941) 365-0367 |  www.EarRF.org

1901 Floyd Street, Sarasota, Florida 34239
In 1979, the Ear Research Foundation was established in Sarasota, Florida by President and Founder, Dr. Herbert Silverstein.  The Foundation was created out of his desire to continue research and development, and to contribute to medical education in a private setting. In the field of Otolaryngology.  A non-profit 501C-3 organization, Ear Research provides essential and innovative research, educational sessions to inform the community about hearing health and to train professionals in the field, and community care for people in need of hearing devices and care who could not otherwise afford it.  Vital to the Ear Research Foundation is the strong partnership with Silverstein Institute.

Silverstein Institute

The Silverstein Institute has locations in Sarasota, Venice, Lakewood Ranch, and soon to open in Longboat Key.  An internationally-respected physicians’ practice dedicated to diseases and surgery of the ears, nose, and throat.  Silverstein Institute provides innovative, high-quality patient care.  A state-of-the-art organization, the staff and physicians work together every day to improve the health and well-being of their patients.

Ear Research Foundation
(941) 365-0367 |  www.earrf.org
1901 Floyd Street, Sarasota, FL 34239