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Hearing Blog

Hearing loss, talking loudly and COVID-19

March 17, 2021

By now we should all know that infectious pathogens — like COVID-19 — can be transmitted from person to person through coughing and sneezing. But did you know it may be transmitted simply by talking, too?

In a study published just this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers found that normal human speech produces thousands of respiratory droplets that can linger in the air for up to 14 minutes. 

Basically, every time we talk, we spray thousands of droplets from our mouths that are so small they hang and drift in the air for 8 to 14 minutes. (Insert “cringe” emoji here.)

These droplets can carry infectious pathogens — like coronavirus — and pass viral particles from person to person when that other person inhales the infected droplets or touches something the droplets landed on.

Talking loudly generates even more respiratory droplets

Maybe more interesting is that the same research found that speaking loudly generated more droplets than normal speech, and those droplets also traveled farther.

Not only does this research confirm the reason why wearing masks is advised and increasingly required around the world — it gives yet another reason why treating hearing loss is recommended. “Hearing is essential,” says Dr. Archelle Georgiou, Starkey’s Chief Health Officer, “but if you need one more reason to finally get hearing aids, they could decrease the risk of transmitting COVID-19.” 

People with COVID-19 are most infectious one day before they develop symptoms. So, if your friends and family are infected (but don’t know it) and talking more loudly to you so that you hear them, they will be launching more respiratory droplets into the air. This means you are increasing your risk of getting exposed to the virus — and increasing the risk of everyone else in the room.  

Hearing aids minimize the need for talking loudly

Treating hearing loss with hearing aids enables you to fully participate in conversations with companions who are speaking at a normal speech volume without them needing to shout or speak loudly. As an added bonus, hearing aids also make it easier to hear what people who wear masks are saying. And since masks eliminate the lip-reading cues that we all rely on, that extra amplification and speech clarity can be especially useful now.

As Dr. Georgiou makes clear, “COVID-19 and the need for social distancing are not going away anytime soon. Getting hearing aids also decreases the risk that social distancing will turn into social isolation.” 

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