Although hearing loss is an incredibly common condition impacting people on a global scale, it doesn’t often come up in conversation. Like many disabilities, hearing loss is a topic that many people tend to avoid. It’s something most abled people don’t really think about until it impacts them directly.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, however, that may have changed.
According to a recent survey by the Hearing Loss Association of America, 70% of people with hearing loss say they’re more cognizant of their condition as a result of the pandemic. Another 47% say they’re interested in exploring hearing loss solutions as a result of COVID-19. Finally, 46% have noticed that their hearing loss has begun to influence other aspects of their mental health, causing feelings such as anxiety, isolation, loneliness, confusion, and forgetfulness.
Meanwhile, search data collected from Google Trends indicates that more and more people are searching for information about the impact of the SARS-CoV2 virus on hearing. Some users have even noted recent changes in their ability to understand and distinguish sounds around them. Although it’s yet to be scientifically verified that there’s a link between “long COVID” and hearing damage, these conversations are still happening.
People are understandably frightened. The long-term effects of the coronavirus are yet to be understood, and much of the current evidence surrounding long-term symptoms is circumstantial. Until enough time has passed for there to be a comprehensive study, these questions will inevitably remain unanswered.
Symptoms aside, the virus has generated discussion in several other areas, as well.
In the absence of in-person communication, the pandemic has also underscored a multitude of significant problems with how we communicate, especially in the context of distributed work. Hearing impaired individuals must now contend with communication tools that were not developed with accessibility in mind. The positive side of this issue is that it may drive positive change and improve visibility for the Deaf community, inspiring more discussion, research, and surveys into hearing impairment.
One of the more important discussions around hearing health in that regard involves face masks. These masks are necessary to help curb the spread of the virus. Still, at the same time, they represent a significant communication barrier for people with moderate to severe hearing loss. Many innovators have taken the initiative to address the problem, with technologies including super-fine mesh or transparent plastic masks, LED masks, and more.
If nothing else, one of the most significant impacts of the coronavirus is that it showed us, in stark detail, how much we previously took for granted — including the ability to hear. The best hope now is that this newfound awareness creates positive change. That, once the pandemic is finally over, hearing health is no longer a topic people overlook or avoid.
Because like any disability, hearing loss, at the end of the day, can happen to anyone.