by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
For decades I’ve wished that doctors, dentists and other health care professionals would wear clear surgical masks so that I could speechread them. I know many of you with more severe hearing losses feel the same.
In the past, I’ve read about clear masks that had been invented, but I never have heard of anyone actually wearing one. Apparently a serious flaw was that these clear masks quickly fogged up from the wearer’s breath, so they were useless for speechreading.
Fortunately for us, that has changed now. I’m actually wearing one of the brand new Nex-Gen Clear Surgical Masks as I type this. I’m experimenting to see whether it fogs up or not.
Now the good news. So far, I can’t make it fog up! It stays crystal clear in spite of my hot breath.
And yes, you really can speechread though this surgical mask. For best results, you want to look at the person from a slight angle, not head on, or the filter might get in your line of sight. (In contrast, the respirator model has the filters to both sides, so for a person wearing this respirator model, you look at the person head on.)
The Nex-Gen masks have a metal nose-bridge piece that you bend to fit the shape of your nose so you get a tight seal. (I found that if I didn’t make a seal tight across the bridge of my nose, my escaping breath fogged up my glasses!)
When wearing these masks, the person’s voice is somewhat reduced in volume and is slightly distorted like you would expect, since the sound of their voice has to come through a filter.
These masks are held in place by two adjustable elastic straps—one above your ears and the other below them. They meet FDA 510K and ISO 10993 standards.
These masks are designed to last for up to a year of use—not bad for a $3.50 investment! You can get these masks in large, small and child’s sizes.
Not only do these clear surgical masks help hard of hearing patients understand their masked health care professionals, but also, they help hard of hearing professionals communicate with their co-workers.
For example, a hard of hearing nurse working in the operating room is at a distinct disadvantage when masked doctors tell her to do something. If all the operating room staff wear these clear surgical masks, then any hard of hearing staff will be able to speechread them.
Spread the word and help these masks to catch on. Send this article to all your doctors, dentists, nurses, paramedics and health care professionals—anyone that typically wears a surgical mask. Let them know just how much these clear masks will help them effectively communicate with you. Ask them to get some of these clear plastic masks and wear them when around you (and other hard of hearing people) when you next visit them.
April 14, 2012
Apparently the Nex-Gen clear surgical masks are no more–at least I can’t find them listed anywhere. It seems they ran afoul of FDA regulations and have been removed from the market.
February 11, 2017
Good news! “The Communicator” clear face mask is now available. You can read about it in this article, “The Communicator” Clear Surgical Face Mask Now Available.