The Impact of the Pandemic on Hearing Health

Last update on Dec, 28, 2020

Five insights about the pandemic and hearing health

As with the virus itself, our collective knowledge about COVID-19 and its relation to hearing health is constantly evolving. Today we possess a much clearer understanding of how COVID-19, hearing loss and overall health are interconnected than we did in the early stages of the pandemic.

Following are five important insights we want to share with health plans and employers.

1. The pandemic magnified effects of hearing loss

Hearing health care providers across the country are reporting an uptick in visits by people with hearing difficulties. One of the main reasons: Many individuals with hearing loss rely on lip reading and facial expressions to understand what other people are saying. The problem is, with mask-wearing mandated or recommended in most locales, these visual cues have largely disappeared. In addition, speech sounds tend to be muffled or distorted by masks, as well as by the clear plastic partitions installed in many public places.

2. COVID-19 exacerbates health issues

The pandemic has contributed to an overall 42% decline in mental health, according to a report in Healthcare Finance. Another article in the International Journal of Social Psychiatry points specifically to an increase in chronic loneliness, resulting from social distancing, quarantining and stay-at-home orders. These trends compound the social isolation and loneliness already experienced by people, especially older adults, who have hearing loss.

study of 20,000 people by a national health insurer concluded that loneliness was associated with a reduction in lifespan similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes daily, and it posed a greater health risk than obesity.

3. COVID-19 patients report hearing issues

Although there’s still much to be learned about the correlations, individuals who are deemed “long-haul” COVID-19 patients may be at an increased risk for auditory/vestibular problems, according to an article in Audiology Today. Patients in a self-led study reported a number of conditions following their COVID-19 diagnoses, including hearing loss, tinnitus, vertigo/motion sickness and earaches.

Researchers will need to develop protocols for addressing potential auditory/vestibular issues stemming from COVID-19. However, as the article points out, “audiologists must keep in mind that the more severe, life-threatening side effects of COVID-19 will continue to get researchers’ attention.”

4. Hearing loss treatment safe amid pandemic

Hearing health care providers have acted aggressively, consistent with CDC and WHO guidelines, to ensure the safety of their patients and staff. Commonly implemented best practices include:

  • Staggering appointments to comply with reduced capacity recommendations
  • Use of personal protective equipment (PPE), such as face masks, face shields and gloves
  • Use of disposable items for each patient interaction
  • Installation of clear plastic partitions between staff and patients
  • Strict personal hygiene practices, including frequent hand washing and the use of hand sanitizers
  • Routine cleaning and disinfection of frequently touched surfaces and objects
  • Enforcing wellness measures, such as the use of a health questionnaire and temperature checks
  • Where allowed, certain services provided remotely via telehealth — interactive audio and video telecommunications technology with real-time capability

5. Adapting to new challenges is key

Hearing aid manufacturers are constantly developing technologies to address new communication challenges, including those arising from the pandemic. For example, many hearing aids now feature wireless streaming of audio from smartphones, tablets and computers — ideal for consumers who are spending more time on video chat with family, friends or business associates. A growing number of hearing aid models also come with a special program that enhances the wearer’s ability to hear people who are wearing masks.

One of the unintended consequences of face mask mandates is ear loops that can interfere with hearing aid use. Hearing aid wearers have overcome this challenge in a variety of ways, such as switching to a mask with ties around the back of the head.

Offer effective hearing loss treatment during the pandemic

As a health insurer or employer, your organization can play a role in guiding members or employees to safe, effective hearing loss treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you haven’t done so already, make sure they have access to a hearing benefit or hearing health care program that makes hearing aids and related services more affordable. Also, feel free to share information from this article.

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