Wearing a face mask has become essential during COVID-19. This measure is designed to protect those around us from the spread of the disease — but it’s not without its challenges, especially for those who have hearing loss.
For people dealing with hearing loss, wearing a mask and communicating with other masked individuals presents a unique set of challenges: placing the hearing aids, ensuring they do not fall out or get lost, sounds being muffled by the masks and not being able to see other people’s lips are some of the main challenges.
For people using hearing aids during COVID-19, the goal should be to wear a mask in the most comfortable way possible without compromising their hearing.
Challenges of wearing a mask with a hearing aid?
Wearing a hearing aid along with a mask during COVID-19 has posed other challenges beyond comfort. Where masks can save lives and slow the spread of the virus, hearing aids promote quality of life by allowing people with hearing loss to hear the world around them.
As most masks are designed with ear loops, hearing aids — particularly the commonly-worn behind-the-ear devices — can easily snag or get caught in them. Choosing to wear one or the other isn’t an option: masks have become mandatory in many public places, and hearing aids allow people who have hearing loss to remain aware of their surroundings. As a result, many hearing aids often snag in the ear loops of facemasks or become tangled upon removal. Worse, they can get misplaced throughout this process.
Even those who master the art of keeping both masks and hearing aids intact struggle with a muffled sound. Without visible lip cues to compensate for diminished sound quality, hearing aid wearers also struggle to understand and participate in conversations with those around them, as masks create both audio and visual barriers.
Quick Tips for Wearing Hearing Aids with a Mask
The fact remains — with infections continuing to be recorded in Canada, the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t showing signs of ending. Wearing protective equipment like facemasks has become essential to our daily habits — and will likely remain part of the new normal in the foreseeable future.
The best thing any of us can do is ensure that both masks and hearing aids can be worn comfortably at the same time. Here are some quick tips for getting used to both:
1. Be careful with wearing and removal
The ear loops of masks can easily snag on hearing aids, so take extra precautions when putting on and removing them. For utmost safety — and in line with public health guidelines — take off your mask only when absolutely necessary, or upon getting to a safe place like your car or home.
Doing so eliminates the risk of accidental snags and loss and reduces exposure to COVID-19. When taking off your mask, check to make sure that the hearing aid remains in place.
2. Tie back long hair
Long, loose hair is a common culprit for increased risk of accidental snagging. To avoid increasing the risk of losing your hearing aid, try looping the elastic around your ponytail. This eliminates contact with the mask ear loops and provides a snug, secure fit for extended periods when wearing your mask.
3. Use a mask with four strings
Not all face masks have to be secured with ear loops; some masks feature four strings that can be tied or secured around your neck and the back of your head. This reduces pressure on the ears and reduces the risk of getting caught on your hearing aid.
4. Use a headband with buttons
One of the challenges of prolonged mask-wearing is pressure on the ears. Earloops are tightly fitting to provide a snug fit and prevent masks from falling off, but they can be uncomfortable or even painful after a while.
To prevent this discomfort, many people have taken to securing their masks to buttons attached to headbands. This also reduces contact with hearing aids and prevents them from falling off or being dislodged.
5. Use a mask extender
For some, masks with four strings or a headband aren’t the best option, especially if they require more work to wear. In this case, a mask extender would be a better alternative and allows hearing aid wearers to use face masks they already own.
For increased comfort, mask extenders can also be worn at the base of the neck, with the loops positioned below the ears. Mask extenders often come as long strips with attachments like buttons to which the ear loops can be secured. This eliminates pressure on the ears and allows for greater comfort and increased security when wearing hearing aids.
What to do if You Lose Your Hearing Aid
Due to the struggles of wearing a mask with a hearing aid during COVID-19, it’s not uncommon to lose your hearing device. While this ordeal can be disorienting and inconvenient, there are ways of locating your lost hearing aid, and patient-friendly processes for getting a replacement with your hearing aid practitioner.
Smart hearing devices — like the Livio AI or Livio Edge AI — are compatible with the Thrive app on various smartphones. The “Find My Hearing Aid” feature allows you to quickly locate your lost hearing aid by telling you how close or how far you are from the device. This feature works even when outdoors, as well as if your hearing aid loses its charge. The GPS will tell you where it was last connected to the internet.
If you aren’t fitted with a smart hearing device, or can no longer locate it, get in touch with your hearing aid provider. They can check whether your hearing aid is covered under a loss and damage policy, and promptly provide a replacement at no additional cost.
They can also provide expert tips for ensuring your hearing aids stay on and are properly calibrated to compensate for muffled sound quality and diminished listening that can arise from interactions with mask-wearers.