ANNAPOLIS, Md. — About 48 million Americans have hearing loss, and many are struggling in the pandemic because of mask-wearing.
Dr. Carrie Nieman, assistant professor for the Cochlear Center for Hearing and Public Heath at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, said a survey shows 95% of people living with hearing loss in the U.S. say masks are creating serious communication barriers.
The study, by the Hearing Loss Association of America, found 89% say masks impede lip-reading, and social distancing makes conversations harder.
Nieman pointed out many are weighing their communications issues with the risk of seeing a doctor in person for treatment during the pandemic.
“The survey found around 47% of individuals reported they were actually more eager to seek out hearing solutions,” Nieman explained. “But I think there are certainly a lot of concerns about coming in to see a provider; that has certainly delayed things.”
She noted studies also show links between the COVID-19 virus and hearing loss and tinnitus. Hearing loss is associated with problems like cognitive decline, along with depression and social isolation, two mental health issues experts say have gotten worse in the last year.
Nieman stressed telemedicine can be a great option for people with hearing loss to get treatment, so they can clearly see a clinician without a mask.
She had some tips for patients to keep in mind.
“Really try to insist on access to captioning for a video conference platform, as well as thinking about using a headset to be able to amplify sounds and hopefully, encouraging your provider to be thinking about what they can do to optimize the signal in the audio as well,” Nieman outlined.
Diane Nens, audiologist and senior clinical director for UnitedHealthcare Hearing, said if someone suspects they might have hearing loss, they can get a free online hearing test through UnitedHealthcare’s website.
“Common signs of hearing loss, many times, are turning the volume of the TV up that others find too loud, trouble hearing people on the phone, and difficulty following conversations in noisy environments,” Nens commented.
She thinks it’s important to catch hearing loss early because it occurs gradually over time, and folks might not realize their degree of impairment.