This March, Dr. Namrata Varma went on a mission trip to Guatemala through an organization called Mending Kids, a non-profit that provides surgical care for children across the globe.
While in Guatemala, Dr. Varma and her team operated on 41 children and were able to remove tracheostomies (long-term breathing tubes placed in the neck to bypass an obstruction of the airway) in 2 patients who were once told they would need to have the tube in their neck for life.
Hearing is one of our five valuable senses and if suddenly you couldn’t hear sounds or voices clearly, you would obviously be upset. You notice others with hearing aids and now you wonder if that will be you soon. Let’s investigate why you might be experiencing muffled hearing.
Whether for business or for fun, travel is an important part of our lives. However, for more than 20 million people in the U.S. with hearing loss, travel can be difficult. The good news is that with a little preparation and some common-sense precautions, travel can be a lot easier.
Here is a checklist of things you can do that will make the whole experience smoother and help avoid unnecessary problems.
Plan Everything in Advance. Planning all travel arrangements in advance will help you avoid problems later.
Book Online. Whenever possible, book flights, buses, trains, hotels, and rental cars online. This includes researching prices and dates and making final reservations.
Ask About Hearing Impaired Accommodations. If where you’re planning to stay does not have provisions for the hearing impaired, it may be worth checking somewhere else.
Pack Carefully. Assume that wherever you are going will not have a ready supply of necessary equipment to maintain your hearing aids and other devices. Take all necessary equipment with you, including extra batteries, cleaning supplies, domes, wax guards, chargers, and bluetooth accessories.
Pack your hearing-related items in your carry-on luggage. This will minimize the risk of losing them. If you have an extra set of hearing aids, you may want to put those in your carry-ons as well. And don’t forget a power strip and any necessary adapters for foreign electric sockets to accommodate all of your chargers and devices wherever you go.
Check Your Phone’s Travel Restrictions. Make sure you can send and receive text messages abroad. And request that any travel updates are sent to you via text messaging.
Use Online Resources.Google Translate online is a great way to help simplify communication abroad. Just type common phrases and Google Translate will automatically translate them. A free app is also available for your phone.
Have Your Hearing Aids Checked Before You Leave. Before leaving on any trip, make sure your hearing aids are working properly. Have them checked by a hearing care professional and ask for a referral to hearing professionals in the areas where you’ll be staying.
Taking a Bus or Train
If flying on an airplane is not your favorite experience, taking a bus or train may be the best way to travel. Trains are the faster way to get to your destination. Amtrak requires passengers with hearing loss to purchase their tickets 14 days ahead of schedule. Amtrak offers discounts to those with disabilities as well as one additional travel companion. Special room accommodations can also be made for those with wheelchairs or limiting disabilities.
Once you are on your way, there are some things you can do to make the trip more enjoyable and less stressful.
Consider taking a dehumidifier. This is for drying your hearing aids at night—especially if your destination has a warm, humid climate.
Find out what travel apps are available for your smartphone. Some of these applications can store reservation information and offer real-time alerts for changes in flight plans and maps that can provide directions.
Check for TDD service. Find out if your airline or other transportation company offers Telecommunications Device for the Deaf (TDD) services to assist passengers.
Arrive early. Whether at the airport, bus terminal, or train station, get there early.
Check the display board frequently. Stay informed while waiting in the terminal to confirm your destination and departure time as there may be delays or the departure gate may change. Confirm the flight, bus, or train number and destination before boarding.
Wear your hearing aids during security screening and on the bus, train, or airplane. This will make it easier to communicate with security personnel, flight attendants, and other officials, and to hear your travel companions and any on-board announcements.
Tell the agent at the boarding gate that you are hearing-impaired. Tell them you need to be notified in person when it’s time to board.
Inform the flight attendant or conductor that you are hearing-impaired. Request that any announcements be communicated to you in person. Consider reserving aisle seats to make it easier to communicate with the staff.
Pay attention. Many buses advertise the names of stops on overhead electronic signs so it’s important to stay alert. It’s also a good idea to ask a fellow traveler to let you know when your stop comes up so you don’t miss it.
Ask for help from professionals. Ask tour guides and other professionals for help when needed. That’s why they’re there.
Ask for help from fellow travelers. Most people are willing to offer assistance when needed.
Use visual cues for better comprehension. Airplanes, buses, and trains are full of background noise and can pose a unique challenge—even with the help of hearing aids. In the terminal and during your trip, pay special attention to visual cues to fill in parts of speech you may miss due to the challenging environment. And don’t be afraid to ask others to rephrase when you don’t understand or to look at you when they speak.
What to do When You Get There
Some hotel chains provide visual alerting devices to help the hearing-impaired traveler recognize the ring of the telephone, a knock on the door, or a fire/emergency alarm. Contact the hotel in advance to make the necessary arrangements.
When you check in, remind the receptionist at the front desk that you’re hearing impaired and verify that any available special arrangements have been made.
Carry printed copies of lodging reservations, dates, and prices.
Having a map handy will make it easier to find your way around or ask for directions, especially when you don’t speak the local language.
Keeping Road Trips Safe
Road trips are great opportunities to explore new places and savor new experiences. And traveling by car is a great time to talk with your travel companions or relax as the scenery goes by. But car travel poses special challenges for hearing aid wearers. Here are some tips to help keep you safe on the road.
Only drive when you feel safe doing so. If you’re spending long periods in a car and straining to hear, you may become fatigued. If you reach a point where you are having a hard time hearing or are feeling tired from the strain, be safe and ask someone else to drive for a while.
Eliminate distracting noise. Although it’s fun to sing along with music or listen to a book or news while you drive, noise inside the car can prevent you from hearing noise outside the car. If you feel like your hearing is impaired by the sounds coming from the car speaker, turn it off.
Use a remote mic. One of the best parts of a road trip is talking with your travel companions—which can be hard for people who wear hearing aids. To make conversations easier, clip a remote mic to your companion’s shirt or place it in the back seat to hear everyone more clearly.
Traveling can be one of life’s greatest experiences. With a little planning and prudent preparation, it can also be safe and trouble-free.
Have you ever wondered what makes hearing work? It’s actually quite a complicated process involving several different kinds of body parts. Here’s a quick description of how they all work together so that you can hear what’s going on around you.
The ear has three main parts (see Figure 1):
The outer ear
The middle ear
The inner ear
Figure 1. Anatomy of the ear
As you can see in Figure 1, the outer ear opens into the ear canal. The eardrum (tympanum) separates the ear canal from the middle ear. The middle ear contains three small bones that help amplify the sound and transfer it to the inner ear. These three bones (ossicles), are the malleus, the incus, and the stapes. They are also referred to as the hammer, the anvil, and the stirrup because of their shapes.
The inner ear contains the cochlea, which changes sound into neurological signals, and the cochlear nerve, which takes sound to the brain.
Here’s how it all works together (see Figure 2).
Any source of sound sends vibrations, called sound waves, into the air. These sound waves funnel into the ear opening, flow down the external ear canal, and strike your eardrum, causing it to vibrate
The vibrations are passed from your eardrum to the three small bones of the middle ear
One of these bones, the stapes, is attached to the membrane of the oval window; vibrations transferred to the oval window create fluid waves in the cochlea
The fluid waves push on the flexible membranes of the cochlear duct; hair cells bend and chemical channels open, creating an electrical signal
These nerve impulses are picked up by the cochlear nerve and delivered to the brain, where they are interpreted (music, voice, car horn, water, wind, etc.); you recognize the sound based on how your brain interprets the auditory nerve signals
Excess energy from the fluid waves is transferred into the tympanic duct and sent back to the middle ear
Figure 2. How sound waves move through the ear
It all seems like something you would see in a cartoon, but it works. And it works very well. But an interruption of the normal process at any stage along the way can interfere with your ability to hear properly. That’s why it’s important to take care of your ears and seek professional help if you think there is a problem. In most cases, the sooner you recognize a problem, the more likely it can be resolved.