Published on June 8, 2021

The View from my Seat

Mask, glasses, hearing aid can make for a tangled mess

By Ernie Williamson / The Bulletin

I’m glad the guidelines for wearing masks have been relaxed.

I can now wear my hearing aids with less fear of losing them.

In case you are confused, let me explain.

In addition to hearing aids, I also need glasses.

Add a mask and the combination creates a new kind of ear congestion.

The mask with its elastic ear loops, the hearing aids with their wiring and the glasses with frames, all compete for space on the side of my head.

The result, in addition to the irritation behind the ears caused by the mask, is often an ensnarled mess that increases the risk of losing a hearing aid.

It could be worse. At least I don’t have earrings, too.

If I am careful, I notice the entanglement while taking off my glasses or the mask. I untangle everything so a hearing aid doesn’t fall unnoticed to the ground somewhere. If I am not careful … well, that could be an expensive mistake if I lost one of the aids.

The two hearing aids cost more than $4,000.

I thought this was just my First World problem, but one day I discovered I wasn’t alone.

I was getting ready for a physical therapy session at an outpatient clinic. This clinic requires patients to discard their masks and use only masks provided by the clinic.

I switched masks and, as I was rolling away in my wheelchair, a security guard said “you forgot something.”

She was holding one of my hearing aids. I hadn’t been careful enough and one hearing aid had been left behind on the floor. It had been entangled with the mask and came out of my ear when I removed my mask.

I thanked her, and she smiled. “You would be surprised how often this happens,” she said.

Out of curiosity, I decided to undertake what passes these days for deep research. I googled “masks and hearing aids.”

To my surprise, there were several screens devoted to the topic.

These were some of the headlines:

“6 masks that won’t send your hearing aids flying”;

“Struggling to wear a mask and hearing aids? Here’s help”;

“How to wear hearing aids comfortably with glasses and masks”.

After almost losing a hearing aid several times, I decided I would experiment and only wear them around the house. I figured that was safe since I didn’t wear a mask in our house, and I would be more likely to find a hearing aid if it fell off.

That meant, however, I was venturing out in public with diminished hearing, trying to understand what masked people were saying while standing six feet away.

I am sure nearly all of you - even those with good hearing - have had to ask a person with a mask to repeat themselves or to speak up. I did it so often it became embarrassing.

Hearing what a mask-wearer was saying in a normal conversation was tough. Hearing what was being said by a mask-wearing clerk behind a plexiglass barrier was tougher. Understanding the garbles coming through the speaker at a drive-thru restaurant was impossible.

I was often reduced to shaking my head yes or no, pretending to understand every word being said.
I remember my physiatrist prescribed an exercise program for my paraplegia.

Rather than ask her to repeat it, I asked if she would just write it down.

And, because of the masks, I couldn’t rely on lip-reading clues and other facial movements to help me understand what was being said.

According to Joy Victory, managing editor of the Healthy Hearing website, a face mask reduces the clarity of speech and lowers it anywhere from 5 to 15 decibels.

Speech becomes not just quieter, but more muzzled.

Fortunately, the experiment of going without hearing aids is over.

I wear them with less fear of losing them now that I am not wearing a mask outside all the time.
But, even so, I still can’t understand the voice on the speaker at the drive-thru.

(Ernie Williamson welcomes reader input. Please contact Ernie at williamsonernie@gmail.com. Or, send letters in care of The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516)