Can you say that again? More Hoosiers are unmasking hearing loss amid pandemic

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – If you have heard yourself saying “excuse me” or asking “can you say that again?” a lot more during the pandemic, you’re not alone.

Doctors are finding that more people are reporting having trouble hearing people while wearing face coverings.

“In my clinic I have seen a 20% increase in the number of patients seeking help for hearing loss,” said Dr. Rick Nelson, an Otolaryngologist at Indiana University Health.

Dr. Nelson adds that of those 20% almost all have been diagnosed with hearing loss, which is something that happens over time most often correlated with age.

25% of those 65 and older suffer from hearing loss and that number jumps to 50% for those over 70 years old.

Dr. Nelson also says the loss can happen at any age with loud noise being one risk factor.

Without the pandemic and having to wear a mask, Dr. Nelson says it’s possible some people may have adapted, prolonged testing or may not have even noticed.

“I think the masks do a couple things. One is they muffle the speech that people are producing so not only does it decrease the volume but it decreases some of the speech frequencies that we want to hear. And then two, one of the cruxes is the visual input we get from looking at someone’s face and looking at their lips while they’re talking,” he adds.

If left untreated hearing loss can cause people to disengage with family or the community out of fear their problem will be noticed. So, how can a person tell if the mask is to blame for hearing problems or if it’s hearing loss?

Dr. Nelson advises to sit in a quiet room and have a conversation with someone wearing a mask or telephone a friend who isn’t wearing one. If you can’t hear the person in the room or on the other end of the line, he says it’s time to get a hearing test.

“Some people are scared a hearing test will lead to a hearing aid, but I tend to think patients should have all the information available to them,” said Dr. Nelson.

He also says hearing tests are painless and takes about 20 minutes to complete.