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Transparent face masks could aid communication, especially among people with hearing loss

Face masks can help block coronavirus transmission.

But they also can hinder clear communication, especially for the 17% of adults and 72% of seniors in the U.S. with some degree of hearing loss.

A new  study in the journal JAMA Network Open investigates one potential solution.

Opaque masks muffle speech and hide the mouth, which hampers the ability to share emotions like empathy. This barrier especially impedes health care workers with impaired hearing.

When patients and health care workers, some of whom were deaf or hard of hearing, watched a speaker wearing a transparent N95 mask, about 74-88% could identify the emotion expressed, compared to 20-24% when the speaker wore a standard mask.

The findings suggest see-through masks might help overcome communication barriers, but manufacturers must meet medical standards and solve problems like fogging, discomfort and sound muffling.

Nicholas Gerbis was a senior field correspondent for KJZZ from 2016 to 2024.