Many of the UK’s 12 million people with a hearing loss rely on facial expressions and lipreading to communicate. The now widespread use of face masks has been a difficult issue to navigate over the last year.

Face masks make communication difficult as they can act as a barrier, distorting sounds and blocking higher speech frequencies. There is the added challenge that attaching a face mask can dislodge a hearing instrument.

The hearing instrument manufacturers recognised this issue early on in the pandemic and worked to identify technology solutions to compensate for masks in hearing instruments.

Strong noise production in a hearing instrument is essential given the challenges masks present. An instrument needs to be able to correctly analyse a sound and identify the right sounds through the barrier of a mask. A number of manufacturers have added filters that can be selected when speaking to a person with a face mask.

Paul Surridge, BIHMA Chairman, commented: ‘The technology in hearing instruments is constantly being adapted to address the new situations we face in this pandemic. This has been a truly challenging time for those with hearing loss, and we are doing our very best to use our technology to support the deaf community.”

A year into the pandemic, there has been a lot of research and analysis put towards addressing this issue. BIHIMA has pulled together a set of useful resources that advises audiologists and patients on the use of masks for those with hearing loss.

 

Useful resources on face masks:

– Regulations on wearing face masks from the RNID

– Top tips to keep your hearing aids secure whilst wearing a face mask

– The BMJ outlines how masks undermine speech communication for patients with hearing loss in medical care settings