Five Things Covid-19 Taught Me about Hearing Loss

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As a hearing loss advocate — and a person who has lived with hearing loss for more than half her life — I pride myself on knowing a lot about hearing loss. Over the years, I have become skilled at self-identifying, using assistive listening technologies, adjusting the environment for better hearing, and asking others to use communication best practices. But as the pandemic showed me, there is always more to learn.

Below I share the top five things Covid-19 taught me about hearing loss. Please share what you have learned in the comments.

1. Lipreading is a critical communication tool.

Communicating with masks is a challenge for everyone, but especially for people with hearing loss because masks hide important speech reading cues like lip movements and facial expressions. I have always used lipreading to help me communicate and understand conversation, but I didn’t know to what degree I relied on it until it was gone. Trips to the grocery store, the doctor or an outdoor restaurant have all become more challenging with everyone’s faces hidden.

2. Hearing loss is exhausting.

I had experienced hearing loss exhaustion already, but the pandemic put the period full stop at the end of the sentence. The fear of not being able to understand adds to the exhaustion of each communication encounter — whether online or in person. My hearing loss confidence falters at times, but I am working to rebuild it by embracing new technologies including speech-to-text apps like Google’s Live Transcribe or Otter.ai and phone amplification apps like Ear Machine or Chatable.

3. Hearing loss is truly invisible.

Most people take their hearing for granted, so they assume everyone else can hear too. Waiters speak at the same volume despite being masked, as do doctors and nurses, and almost anyone else. This is only natural given their life experience, but for people with hearing loss, hearing is not something we do in the background while performing another activity. Hearing, or should I say understanding, is the activity.

Making our hearing loss more visible by self-identifying right away or wearing buttons or pins declaring our hearing problems is an important coping tool in our new masked world. As is visible advocacy. Our community must continue to demand the communication access tools we need to remain active participants in society during these unnerving times.

4. Self-care is critical for good hearing.

We all face many stressors in these unusual times that can impact our ability to cope with uncomfortable or difficult situations. This is no different for people with hearing loss. We must take time each day to care for ourselves. This means eating properly, exercising, getting enough sleep and setting aside time for relaxation and reflection. The stronger our body and mind, the more stamina and patience we will have to take on our next communication challenge.

5. Self-advocacy is the key to success.

Self-advocacy has always been the key to success with hearing loss and it continues to be. Once we identify ourselves as a person with hearing loss, we must let others know the specific things they can do to help us understand. The more detailed we are, the higher the chances are for successful communication. When asking for help, make your requests with a smile. Even if your smile is hidden behind your mask, the sound of your voice and your crinkling eyes may give it away. Everyone is struggling in these challenging times. When we ask for what we need with kindness, there is a much higher likelihood the person will do as we ask.

Readers, what have you learned about hearing loss during the pandemic?

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40 thoughts on “Five Things Covid-19 Taught Me about Hearing Loss”

  1. yes…visible advocacy sure does help. Hearing people aren’t mind readers. HOH people look like everyone else…no visible signs of `’hearing loss.`’.

    Easy to be overlooked. It’s all a matter of communication….simple as it sounds…that’s what it is.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      So true. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  2. Shari, thanks for another timely blog. You’ve been lip reading for awhile it seems. did you just gradually pick it up or does it require taking an online class to get proficient at it? Mike

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Hi Mike I picked it up naturally over time, but have also taken an online class which I found helpful. You can read more about that here: https://livingwithhearingloss.com/2019/12/03/how-to-improve-your-lipreading-skills-online/. Thanks for your comment.

  3. This is so true, thank you for writing about it. I am a cashier for 2 different companies so I see a lot of different people daily. I am surprised how many of my customers tell me they can’t hear very well while wearing masks so I tell them my story about my wearing hearing aids for 20+ years. I was around 48 when I got my first ones, only had my hearing checked after I completely misunderstood what one of my kids had said. Boy was I surprised how much I hadn’t been hearing when I put them in. Opened up a whole new world for me. At the time I was managing several convenience stores and had always told my employees to make sure they had my attention when talking to me, I needed to read their lips but I didn’t realize it. I’m on my 3rd pair now, just got new ones but they are so much more complicated than the ones that were 11 years old. I’m having a tough time adjusting to them. I have really learned to advocate for myself during this pandemic and I think I’m also helping other people understand why they can’t hear so well with a mask. Most people I talk to don’t realize how much they rely on lip reading and facial expression. I go home after working 6 to 7 hours just mentally and physically exhausted. I also share your blog on my FB page, I have several friends who are hard of hearing. Thank you again, I’m so glad I found your blog!

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Thank you for sharing your perspective. So glad you found the blog.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Well said. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  4. As someone who had to frequent the hospital a lot for the past two weeks, it’s been incredibly exhausting especially when I had to self-advocate a lot but luckily, they were able to remove masks if they were in a safe spot to do so so that I could understand what they were saying. They’ve also learned about the app (Otter) so that they could share with other staff in further attempts to try and be more accommodating to those who are deaf/hard of hearing.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Thank you for sharing what works for you.

  5. Great and timely post, Shari. Like you and another of the commenters, I never realized how much I relied on lip reading until I tried to converse with masked people. Many of my coworkers now pull their masks up and down when speaking with me—down when talking, up when listening. It works for the most part and hopefully it’s safe for all concerned.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Glad you have found a workaround. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  6. I will be first to admit my perspective is far different from yours.I first started wearing hearing aids much earlier in my life, at a time when the stigma was profound. This was 40 years ago, and I “came out” to only a very few trusted people. While I have come to advocate for myself more often in recent years, old habits die hard. Being forced out of the closet, repeatedly, because of this pandemic still does not sit easy on me. Because yes, hearing is exhausting, and because people still believe my lack of hearing is far more inconvenient for them than it is for me. My best self-care is to give myself a break from hearing, take out the aids when I can, and appreciate those moments of quiet. As an introvert, that’s not always the worst place to be! We all do what we can.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      I am glad that you are finding a path that works for you. Thank you for sharing your perspective.

  7. The reason hearing loss is so exhausting, and the reason it seem like young people speak faster and faster, is that hearing with a loss is really translation. You have to put together the clues you heard, the ones you saw, and what you know about the speaker to understand what he said. Young people keep reinventing the language, which doesn’t help. Thank goodness for captions, no matter how bad.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Well said. Thank you for sharing your perspective.

  8. I am sitting here nervously awaiting my doctor’s ok for short term disability and feeling guilty. I am unable to work with staff and students wearing masks.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      So sorry. Have you tried a “mask” setting on your hearing devices or speech-to-text-apps? Sometimes these workarounds can be helpful.

  9. They tried to accommodate by providing homemade clear masks which doesn’t look like the would work, big gaps for air to escape and no one wears them

  10. Actually, no. I am not familiar with those. I am a speech therapist and given working with speech disabilities, it would be difficult to use. Thanks though

  11. Thank you for your blog.Being new to using hearing aids I have found this is a lot of new territory for me and it’s great to have new perspective. I have spent a lot of my time around a loud husband and thought most of the world mumbles. I got my hearing tested in June as he insisted and found out I have just shy of profound hearing loss in both ears.Wow what a surprise it’s me not everyone else. Time to start wearing slippers and stop trying to insist the world get carpeted.I have found since wearing hearing aids there are less angry and impatient people in the world and if I lead with I am hard of hearing people mumble less.My granddaughter had me try closed captioning when watching Frozen and found out I cannot carry a tune which so many had told me but I never believed .I do recommend getting the Cadillac of hearing aids which I did get. Oh and I never read blogs till you.It’s a whole new world is true

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      I am so glad that your hearing aids are working well for you and that you are learning about all the wonders of hearing technology. And that you found the blog. Welcome to our community.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Thank you for reading and being a part of the community.

  12. This is such a super great read for all of us – thank you! I miss seeing and talking to the clerks in the stores (Wal-Mart) seems like they just do not want to talk, but I know one gal there for over 10 years and I go out of my way to say HI to her – like I did this morning! We must continue to do what we have been doing to communicate with the world, virus or no virus, we must continue on!! Thank You Once again!

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      We must continue on! Great advice. Thank you for adding to the discussion.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Some audiologists are creating new programs for hearing aids to help with masks. Like how you can use a restaurant program at a restaurant, you would use the mask program when speaking with people wearing masks. The programs boost some of the high pitch sounds the masks block.

  13. Quite true, in my case, this mask requirement makes it totally impossible to verbally communicate. I was hoping the clear shield would be a substute, but the health department and studies do not consider it as effective to contain the covid19. When people pull their mask down it really is necessary to expose all the way down past the chin as the whole face is necessary to lip read. The one time I saw a person with a clear portion over the mouth, but was unable to understand what he was saying. I do have a great crew helping me at our farm which deals directly with the public. Being unable to answer the customer’s questions and receive their comments is quite isolating. I hope this is not a new normal and this virus will soon be history.
    Shari, Thanks much for this Blog. You articulate these hearing loss issues very well.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Have you tried a speech-to-text app? That can sometimes help with masks as well. Thank you for sharing your experiences. You are definitely not alone.

  14. I definitely have listening fatigue and am becoming irritated that going into our 6th month of masks there aren’t more changes. I went to get a mammogram today and after my frustration with how woefully unprepared the medical center is I wrote a complaint ending with, “I will be filing an ADA complaint if you do not respond.” I’m tired of messing around, medical offices have the responsibility to deal with hearing loss more effectively. There are no excuses for the lack of systems in place at all times but especially now.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Thank you for advocating for your rights. We must all continue to educate and advocate, especially now.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Thanks for your comment.

  15. Roger Talbott – I grew up on a farm. I retired to the biggest city in North America. I never met someone of a different race or faith until I was almost 18. Today I live in one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the world. I was born in the middle of the 20th Century. I am getting to see the beginning of the 21st. Some things never change, however.I have always been sustained by the belief that there is something beyond what I can see that is good and lasts forever. Life needs to have meaning and purpose. Relationships need to be based on love and respect. The best work feels like play. Our bodies and minds need to be challenged. To meet those challenges we need to eat good food and read good thoughts. And I know from experience that we can turn our backs on those truths and really screw up our lives.
    Roger Talbott says:

    Thank you for articulating what I’ve been feeling. An upside is that my doctor is one of those people who thinks he can speak without moving his lips. I have a couple of male friends who also think they have this remarkable ability. However, when I explained that the fact that I wear two cochlear implants means that I have difficulty understanding him beneath his mask, he has worked very hard to pronounce his words clearly. I actually understand him better than before!

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      That is good news! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  16. Instead of continuing to endure a repeated bad connection noise on a regular conference call, I finally met privately with the individual and explained how difficult it was for me to understand his speech. He finally discovered that the conference call was going through his laptop microphone instead of his headset!

    If I hadn’t taken the initiative, I’d still be unable to understand much of what he said.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Excellent work. It always pays to advocate for yourself. Thanks for sharing your story.

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