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Pandemic reveals hearing loss for more people

Posted at 8:12 AM, Mar 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-04 09:14:54-05

PHOENIX — Not all mask complaints were about being uncomfortable while wearing them. Some may have been complaining about not being able to hear others speak while wearing masks and hearing specialists say it was a key indicator of hearing loss that was otherwise going unnoticed.

Kory Castro with Beltone West says some masks muffle the high-pitch tones which are where we get clarity and recognize consonant sounds in speech.

He says surgical and cloth masks drop sound by 3-4 decibels, which impacts people who already have recognized hearing loss. The N-95 and K-95 masks drop sound by 10 decibels — about half.

Masks also revealed that people in the beginning stages of hearing loss rely on lip-reading more than they may have realized.

"Lip reading accounts for about 30% of speech understanding. So, other people wearing masks (takes) the high pitch range down and you add that to the lip-reading and it leads to a lot of frustration," Castro said.

In general, he recommends getting a hearing test by age 55.

Other indicators that may signal a problem are if you find you can't easily follow conversations in a crowded area or restaurant, if you don't hear the birds chirping, and if you can't hear your car blinker.