COVID-19 and Deafness: Impact of Face Masks on Speech Perception

This article was originally published here

J Am Acad Audiol. 2022 May 5. doi: 10.1055/s-0041-1736577. Online ahead of print.


BACKGROUND: The COVID-19 pandemic has made wearing face masks a common habit in public places. Several reports have underlined the increased difficulties encountered by deaf people in speech comprehension, resulting in a higher risk of social isolation and psychological distress.

PURPOSE: To address the detrimental effect of different types of face masks on speech perception, according to the listener hearing level and background noise.

RESEARCH DESIGN: Quasi-experimental cross-sectional study.

STUDY SAMPLE: Thirty patients were assessed: 16 with normal hearing [NH], and 14 hearing-impaired [HI] with moderate hearing loss.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: A speech perception test (TAUV) was administered by an operator trained to speak at 65 dB, without a face mask, with a surgical mask, and with a KN95/FFP2 face mask, in a quiet and in a noisy environment (cocktail party noise, 55 dB). The Hearing Handicap Index for Adults (HHI-A) was administered twice, asking subjects to complete it for the period before and after the pandemic outburst. A 2-way repeated-measure analysis of variance was performed.

RESULTS: The NH group showed a significant difference between the no-mask and the KN95/FFP2-mask condition in noise (p = 0.01). The HI group showed significant differences for surgical or KN95/FFP2 mask compared with no-mask, and for KN95/FFP2 compared with surgical mask, in quiet and in noise (p < 0.001). An increase in HHI-A scores was recorded for the HI patients (p < 0.001).

CONCLUSION: Face masks have a detrimental effect on speech perception especially for HI patients, potentially worsening their hearing-related quality of life.

PMID:35512842 | DOI:10.1055/s-0041-1736577