Why Do Masks Make it Difficult to Communicate?

As necessary as they are for our collective health, face masks can make conversation a little more complicated — or at the very least less pleasant — for everyone. When facial expressions vanish underneath two layers of cotton and lipreading becomes impossible, persons with hearing loss have severe communication issues. Human speech is similarly reduced in loudness and clarity when wearing a mask, mainly due to ambient or background noise.

Although it is possible to derive meaning from speech without the aid of the other senses, our sense of sight is a massive assistance in the comprehension process. We use what we see to comprehend what we hear, whether through facial expressions or body language. What happens if visual aid isn’t available? Masks raise this specific issue; therefore, let us use this chance to investigate what may be done to address masks in communication, particularly for individuals with hearing loss.

Lifesavers, communication inhibitors

Masks obstruct conversation in a variety of ways. 

  • Suppresses noise: First and foremost, masks suppress the sound of speech. Masks prevent sound from moving as quickly as possible because they shield us from the spray and saliva emitted from our mouths during speech. Because sound is merely a vibration of pressure against air particles, masks help reduce the intensity of that sound.
  • Prevents lip reading: Masks not only muffle sound, but they also make it impossible to see the lips as it moves. Those with progressive hearing loss or hearing impairment prefer to keep an eye on mouth movements to supplement the sound they can pick up from speech. This “lip reading” approach might be made intentionally or unconsciously. The visual cues we acquire from the form of a mouth in speech can help us fill in the gaps in what is being said, whether we recognize it or not. We study subtle movement in the face to absorb emotional and other meanings of speech, in addition to the literal act of lip reading.
  • Obscures facial expressions: Have you ever misread the tone of a text message? The lack of connotation and context contributes significantly to the difficulty in understanding. Watching someone speak provides this additional information, indicating sincere expressions of emotion, sincerity, or even sarcasm. Masks, of course, hide this richness of visual information that may otherwise help inform the communication process.

How to improve communication in a time of mask-wearing

If you’re interacting with someone who has hearing loss, think about how you can help them communicate better while wearing a mask. 

  • Get as close as possible. Although you should not get closer than six feet to maintain social safety, you can get a little closer to make your voice more easily heard. 
  • Talk louder. Similarly, you can increase the loudness of speech to compensate for the volume lost owing to the mask’s muffling effect. When we lose visual information, our eyes relocate to our eyes and upper cheekbones for whatever help we can obtain. 
  • Use your hands. Other forms of body language, such as gestures, can be quite helpful in filling up the gaps in understanding. But, above all, the ideal approach to handling hearing loss in a discussion while wearing a mask is to speak from within the same room, exceptionally when quiet.

Aside from these accommodations, the best thing you can do to help a person with hearing loss is to offer moral support throughout the treatment process. The first step is to encourage your loved one to have a hearing test, but your involvement does not end there. You can guide people through the process of getting hearing aids when the time comes. Your role as a moral supporter can be significant by attending appointments together, assisting with the hearing aid fitting procedure, and supporting your loved one through the process of learning to use the aids. In addition, you can help make the process of adopting and learning to use hearing aids much more accessible, just as you can help make a maze conversation simpler in many ways. 

If you know your loved one is ready to take the initial step, be there to encourage and assist them, then sign them up for a hearing test with us!