Face masks: a barrier to communication?

Depending on the level of hearing impairment, face masks may have their place within the clinical setting

Mask Research
Mask Research

Fabric face masks demonstrate a larger decrease in speech understanding and transparent face masks produce the greatest sound attenuation (Atcherson et al. 2017; Bottalico et al., 2020)

Evidence suggests wearing a surgical face mask produces increased sound however the transparent face mask provides more visual cues (Corey et al., 2020)

Bex Francis
Bex Francis final MSc student at Edinburgh Napier, and EDB CSP student reference group officer



  1. Reduce the distance between you where social distancing allows and raise the volume of your voice to ensure speech understanding is increased(Hampton et al., 2020, Radonovich et al., 2010).
  2. Try to reduce background noise or move into a quieter area to communicate.
  3. Where transparent masks are worn to increase visual cues ensure that bright lights do not cause a reflective glare (Atcherson et al., 2017).


  1. Atcherson, S., Mendel, L., Baltimore, W., Patro, C., Lee, S., Pousson, M., & Spann, M. (2017). The effect of conventional and transparent surgical masks on speech understanding in individuals with and without hearing loss. Journal of the American Academy of Audiology, 28(1), 58–67 doi.org/10.3766/jaaa.15151

  2. Bottalico, P., Murgia, S., Puglisi, G., Astolfi, A., & Kirk, K. (2020). Effect of masks on speech intelligibility in auralized classrooms. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 148(5), 2878–2884 doi.org/10.1121/10.0002450

  3. Corey, R., Jones, U., & Singer, A. (2020). Acoustic effects of medical, cloth, and transparent face masks on speech signals. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 148, 2371-2375 doi.org/10.1121/10.0002279

  4. Hampton, T., Crunkhorn, R., Lowe, N., Bhat, J., Hogg, E., Afifi, W., De, S., Street, I., Sharma, R., Krishnan, M., Clarke, R., Dasgupta, S., Ratnayake, S., & Sharma, S. (2020). The negative impact of wearing personal protective equipment on communication during coronavirus disease 2019. Journal of Laryngology and Otology, 134(7), 577–581 doi.org/10.1017/S0022215120001437

  5. Radonovich, L., Yanke, R., Cheng, J., & Bender, B. (2010). Diminished speech intelligibility associated with certain types of respirators worn by healthcare workers. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene, 7(1), 63–70. doi.org/10.1080/15459620903404803

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