This study sought to determine the level of communication interference associated with commonly used disposable and reusable respirators and surgical masks worn by healthcare workers. Speech intelligibility was assessed using the modified rhyme test in an intensive care unit environment. Respirators decreased speech intelligibility by a range of 1% to 17%, although not all were statistically significant. Differences in speech intelligibility associated with surgical masks and disposable filtering facepiece respirators (without exhalation valves) were not statistically significant compared with controls. Wearing half-face elastomeric respirators with voice augmentation equipment was associated with higher speech intelligibility than models without this equipment (OR = 2.81). Hearing clarity while wearing a powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR) was 79% compared with 90% with no PAPR (OR = 0.40). While some respirators appear to have little or no effect on speech intelligibility, interference with speech intelligibility associated with certain types of respirators commonly worn by U.S. healthcare workers may be substantial.
- Infection control
- Speech intelligibility
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health