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Which Type of Mask Helps You Be Heard Most Clearly?

MONDAY, Dec. 28, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- Disposable surgical masks are the best choice if you want to improve your chances of being heard by other people, researchers say.

They tested a variety of masks being used during the COVID-19 pandemic to determine which types make it easier for people to communicate with others.

The masks tested in the study included medical masks, disposable surgical masks, masks with clear plastic windows around the mouth, and homemade and store-bought cloth masks made of different fabrics and numbers of layers.

"We put the different masks onto the head-shaped loudspeaker and played the same sound for every test," said study author Ryan Corey, an electrical and computer engineering postdoctoral researcher at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

"We also placed the speaker onto a turntable to add a directional component to our data," he added in a university news release.

The researchers also did tests with a person wearing the different types of masks.

Disposable surgical masks had the best acoustic performance among all the masks that were tested. Loosely woven 100% cotton masks also performed well, but may not be as effective as surgical masks at blocking respiratory droplets.

Tightly woven cotton and blended fabrics may stop more droplets but also block more sound, according to the authors of the study published recently in The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America.

Multilayer masks made of loosely woven cotton may offer a reasonable compromise between droplet-blocking and acoustic performance, Corey suggested.

While clear-window masks enable others to see your mouth moving, they blocked sound more than any other masks in the study.

"Previous research performed on this subject has focused on medical masks worn in health care settings," Corey said. "But no one has looked at the acoustic effects caused by different kinds of fabric masks, so that's where I focused our study."

Most masks don't completely block sound, they simply deflect it away from the mouth, according to the researchers.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on COVID-19 and masks.

SOURCE: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, news release, Dec. 23, 2020

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