May 15, 2020
Clinical Contributors to this Story
Virginia Gural-Toth, AuD, CCC contributes to topics such as Audiology.
By Brianna McCabe
The five basic senses of seeing, smelling, tasting, touching and hearing may be yearning for, well, more after feeling a bit of deprivation given the current stay-at-home order.
Just because you’re home for the time being, though, doesn’t mean your senses aren’t working or experiencing the world. “It’s just a bit different now,” shares Virginia Gural-Toth, AuD, CCC, manager of Audiology Programs at the Center for Audiology at JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute.
The importance of hearing health during the coronavirus pandemic
“Being home, one sense that can help you still feel connected is your ability to hear—whether that be in-person, on the phone or through video chats,” adds Dr. Toth. Additionally, the expert notes that along with remaining in-touch with family, friends and coworkers, the ability to hear allows us to access updated information regarding the coronavirus. “It also can help us remain entertained by binge-watching our favorite television shows or movies,” she continues.
However, for the 37.5 million Americans aged 18 and over with reported hearing troubles, sometimes a little ‘more’ is needed to help enhance the overall hearing experience.
4 common hearing issues and how to help:
Difficulty hearing someone speak behind a face mask.
Wearing a face mask may impair the ability for some people to communicate with ease because it prevents lip reading which can reduce the level of speech transmitted from the mouth, Dr. Toth notes. “In fact, approximately 30% to 45% of English words contain highly visible consonant sounds seen on the lips which help to fill in communication gaps,” she says.
Additionally, Dr. Toth shares that facial expressions are also obscured with masking which can further create challenges with understanding the content and context of spoken communication. “Removing visual cues can make communication more taxing because of the mental exertion required to listen, especially when there is background noise,” she elaborates.
To improve communication from behind a face mask, Dr. Toth recommends the following:
- Asking the person to reduce the background noise as much as possible or move to a quieter location
- Asking the person to talk slowly and not shout
- Wearing your hearing aid (if you have one)
- Downloading an app to your smartphone that can provide amplification to improve speech understanding
- Finding an app that translates speech into text in real-time
Trouble hearing someone (even without a mask) speak in-person.
“Even if the ‘barrier’ of a mask is removed, there can still be difficulty in hearing and understanding,” says Dr. Toth. If so, she offers the following tips:
- Commanding the individual’s attention before you start speaking
- Refraining from speaking from another room or a distance
- Avoiding speaking with your back towards the person and/or turning away while conversing
- Speaking face-to-face in a well-lit environment whenever possible
- Removing any obstructions in front of the mouth
- Reducing noise in the room whenever possible
Struggling with proper hearing aid maintenance.
Research has shown that approximately 28.8 million adults in the United States could benefit from wearing hearing aids. “For those that recognized a need, sought the proper care and attained a hearing aid, there is proper upkeep that goes along with this equipment,” says Dr. Toth. According to the audiologist, if you wear a hearing aid you should make sure to wear it with a fresh battery and/or a fresh charge. “If you notice that it is not in good working order, you should contact your audiologist,” she advises.
Inability to adequately hear the television.
“Let’s face it, watching TV has been a way to mindlessly pass time and also stay amused,” says Dr. Toth. “However, for those with hearing difficulty, watching TV can be more of a challenge than a pleasure.” If that is the case, Dr. Toth recommends using closed captioning or purchasing an assistive device that can be connected to the TV (and there’s even hearing aid connective devices, too).
When to seek care to better your hearing health
As explained by Dr. Toth, an individual should reach out to an audiologist if he or she experiences the following:
- Being able to hear people speak but not understanding what they are saying
- Ringing or buzzing in their ears (tinnitus)
- Asking people to constantly repeat what they are saying
- Complaining that people mumble
- Purposely avoiding conversations or social situations
- Constantly turning the volume up on the TV or the radio
“If you experience a sudden loss in hearing, call your medical professional immediately,” warns Dr. Toth. “It could be a sign of something as simple as a blockage from earwax or suggest something more serious.”
Next Steps and Resources:
- Learn more about the Center for Audiology, part of the Hackensack Meridian JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute.
- View some quick statistics about hearing from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD)
- 7 Ways to Stimulate Brain Health During a Lockdown
The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.