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Travel is an important part of our lives. Whether for business or vacation, traveling can be as stressful as it is enjoyable, and for more than 20 million people in the U.S. with hearing loss, travel can be especially difficult.

What are common problems?

  • Inability to hear or understand airline boarding and in-flight announcements
  • Difficulty making reservations
  • Inability to hear hotel room telephones, someone knocking on the door, or warning signals such as smoke alarms
  • Difficulty using public telephones, hotel phones, cell phones, etc.
  • Inability to hear or understand scheduled events such as planned activities, tours, museum lectures and live performances
  • Lack of oral and/or sign language interpreters
  • Lack of accommodations for hearing dogs

What arrangements can be made?

  • Try to make all travel arrangements in advance. Once transportation arrangements have been made, request written confirmation to ensure that information is correct. Always inform the ticket representative that you are hearing-impaired.
  • If possible, meet with a travel agent to allow the opportunity for lip reading, or if necessary, written exchange to help confirm travel plans. Agents can contact airlines, hotels and attractions to make necessary reservations.
  • Travel information and reservation services are also available on the internet. Be sure to print copies of important information such as confirmation numbers, reservations and maps. Keep copies of travel arrangements, including confirmation numbers, easily available.
  • Arrive early at the airport, bus terminal or train station. Tell the agent at the boarding gate that you are hearing-impaired and need to be notified in person when it’s time to board.
  • Check the display board repeatedly while waiting in the terminal to confirm your flight destination and departure time as there may be delays or the departure gate may change. Confirm the flight number and destination before boarding.
  • Inform the flight attendant that you are hearing-impaired and request that any in-flight announcements be communicated to you in person. Consider reserving aisle seats so that you may easily communicate with the flight staff.
  • Do not be afraid to ask for help from fellow travelers – most are more than willing to offer assistance.

How should hearing aids be handled when traveling?

  • If you wear a hearing aid, be sure to pack extra batteries and tubing. These may be difficult to obtain in some places.
  • Strongly consider taking a dehumidifier for drying your hearing aids each night to prevent moisture problems, especially if your destination has a warm, humid climate.
  • To prevent loss, avoid storing your hearing aid equipment in checked luggage. Keep an extra set of batteries in a separate piece of luggage to prevent total loss of hearing aid use.

What other resources are available?

  • Many major airlines and transportation companies have Telecommunications Device for the Deaf (TDD) services to assist passengers.
  • Hand-held personal communication devices (e.g., cellular phones and smartphones) provide the ability to send and receive text messages without the need to access public resources. Ask your travel agent or check your reservation website to see if this option is available.
  • All public telephones should now have a “blue grommet” attachment to the handset indicating it is compatible with the “T’ switch or telephone program in hearing aids. Some public phones have an amplifying headset, or you can purchase a pocket amplifier from your audiologist or hearing aid dispenser. Cellular phones have solved many of these problems. All manufacturers have models that are also compatible with your hearing aid. You can search the internet by typing in “HAC phones” (hearing aid compatible) to get more information.
  • Smartphones often have applications for travelling. Such programs or email programs can store reservation information. Some applications offer real-time alerts for changes in flight plans, and others have maps that can provide directions.

What other devices are helpful?

  • Telephone amplifiers and induction couplers can be attached to public or hotel phones and can help increase the volume of the telephone. Induction couplers also make the telephone compatible with your hearing aid telecoil. Telephone manufacturers produce handsets such as the G6 and G66, which plug easily into any modular telephone. Using your own compatible cellular phone, however, not only eliminates these problems, but is also less expensive.
  • There are small portable visual alert systems available that flash light when the telephone rings or fire alarm sounds. These can be transported and easily installed in hotel rooms. In the U.S. they should be provided if you ask.
  • FM listening systems can provide direct amplification in large areas using radio frequency. They can help the hearing-impaired traveler listen to lectures, tours, etc., by simply having the speaker use a transmitter microphone, broadcasting the presentation over the radio waves to the receiver.
  • Portable infrared systems can be used with hotel televisions and radios. These transmit sound via invisible infrared light to a listener’s receiver.
  • Portable wake-up alarms can be used to flash a light or vibrate a bed or pillow. A cellular phone can also work as a vibrating alarm.
  • Portable TV band radios can be tuned to compatible TV channels and listened to through an earphone. You can set the volume to suit yourself and watch TV without disturbing others, or you can turn on the closed captioning (CC) feature of the TV so that you can read the dialogue. There may be a (CC) button on the TV remote control, or you may have to activate closed captioning through the TV’s menu options.

 

Will I need to take my hearing aids out for security screening?

In most cases, hearing aids worn on the ears will not set off of the alarms during security screening at airports. Keeping the hearing aids on will allow you to communicate with the security officers during screening, if necessary. It is ok to ask a security officer if it would be advisable to take your hearing aids off; however, body-worn hearing aids and personal listening devices may contain enough metal parts that they should be packed in your carry-on bag. The security scanner will not harm your hearing aids or other related devices.

Lodging

  • Carry printed copies of lodging reservations, dates and prices.
  • Inform the receptionist at the front desk that you are hearing-impaired. This is very important in case of emergency.
  • Certain major hotel chains now 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.

There are many things that hearing-impaired people can do to help make their travels safe, comfortable and enjoyable. Don’t avoid travelling because of hearing loss. Planning ahead and informing your fellow travelers, transportation hosts and hotel clerks that you are hearing-impaired are a few suggestions to help your trip run smoothly. Lastly, obtain any necessary devices – and enjoy yourself!

© 2016 American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery

Ear problems are the most common medical complaint of airplane travelers, and while they are usually simple, minor annoyances, they may result in temporary pain and hearing loss. Make air travel comfortable by learning how to equalize the pressure in the ears instead of suffering from an uncomfortable feeling of fullness or pressure.

Why do ears pop?

Normally, swallowing causes a little click or popping sound in the ear. This occurs because a small bubble of air has entered the middle ear, up from the back of the nose. It passes through the Eustachian tube, a membrane-lined tube about the size of a pencil lead that connects the back of the nose with the middle ear. The air in the middle ear is constantly being absorbed by its membranous lining and re-supplied through the Eustachian tube. In this manner, air pressure on both sides of the eardrum stays about equal. If, and when, the air pressure is not equal the ear feels blocked.

The Eustachian tube can be blocked, or obstructed, for a variety of reasons. When that occurs, the middle ear pressure cannot be equalized. The air already there is absorbed and a vacuum occurs, sucking the eardrum inward and stretching it. Such an eardrum cannot vibrate naturally, so sounds are muffled or blocked, and the stretching can be painful. If the tube remains blocked, fluid (like blood serum) will seep into the area from the membranes in an attempt to overcome the vacuum. This is called “fluid in the ear”, serous otitis or aero-otitis. Uncommon problems include developing a hole in the ear drum, hearing loss and dizziness.

The most common cause for a blocked Eustachian tube is the common cold. Sinus infections and nasal allergies are also common causes. A stuffy nose leads to stuffy ears because the swollen membranes block the opening of the Eustachian tube.

How can air travel cause hearing problems?

Air travel is sometimes associated with rapid changes in air pressure. To maintain comfort, the Eustachian tube must open frequently and wide enough to equalize the changes in pressure. This is especially true when the airplane is landing, going from low atmospheric pressure down closer to earth where the air pressure is higher.

Actually, any situation in which rapid altitude or pressure changes occur creates the problem. It may be experienced when riding in elevators or when diving to the bottom of a swimming pool. Deep sea divers, as well as pilots, are taught how to equalize their ear pressure. Anybody can learn the trick too.

How to unblock ears?

Swallowing activates the muscles that open the Eustachian tube. Swallowing occurs more often when chewing gum or when sucking on hard candies. These are good air travel practices, especially just before take-off and during descent. Yawning is even better. Avoid sleeping during descent because swallowing may not occur often enough to keep up with the pressure changes.

During descent, if yawning and swallowing are not effective, pinch the nostrils shut, take a mouthful of air and direct the air into the back of the nose as if trying to blow the nose gently – you should feel a pressure buildup but do not let the air out of your mouth The ears have been successfully unblocked when a pop is heard. This may have to be repeated several times during descent.

Even after landing, continue the pressure equalizing techniques and the use of decongestants and nasal sprays. If the ears fail to open or if pain persists, seek the help of a physician who has experience in the care of ear disorders. The ear specialist may need to release the pressure or fluid with a small incision in the ear drum.

For some people, these techniques may not work. If you fly frequently and have chronic issues with pressure or pain, you doctor may recommend placing small pressure equalization tubes.

How to help babies unblock their ears?

Babies cannot intentionally pop their ears, but popping may occur if they are sucking on a bottle or pacifier. Feed the baby during the flight, and do not allow him or her to sleep during descent. Children are especially vulnerable to blockages because their Eustachian tubes are narrower than in adults.

Is the use of decongestants and nose sprays recommended?

Many experienced air travelers use a decongestant pill or an over-the-counter nasal spray an hour or so before descent. This will shrink the membranes and help the ears pop more easily. Travelers with allergy problems should take their medication at the beginning of the flight for the same reason. However, avoid making a habit of over-the-counter nasal sprays. After a few days, they may cause more congestion than relief.

Decongestant tablets and sprays can be purchased without a prescription. However, they should be avoided by people with heart disease, high blood pressure, irregular heart rhythms, thyroid disease or excessive nervousness. Such people should consult their physicians before using these medicines. Pregnant women should likewise consult their physicians first.

Tips to prevent discomfort during air travel

  • Consult with your surgeon on how soon after ear surgery it is safe to fly.
  • Postpone an airplane trip if a cold, sinus infection or an allergy attack is present.
  • Patients in good health can take a decongestant pill or nose spray approximately an hour before descent to help the ears pop more easily.
  • Avoid sleeping during descent.
  • Chew gum or suck on a hard candy just before take-off and during descent.
  • When inflating the ears, do not use excessive force. The proper technique involves only pressure created by the cheek and throat muscles.
  • These tips may also be used for people who scuba dive.

© 2016 American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery