by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
A concerned mother asked:
My daughter is 9 years old and she has been hearing impaired since she was about 2½. She has bilaterally enlarged vestibular aqueducts, and she also has only 1½ turns on her cochlea. My question is, do you think it would be safe for her to go into the mountains in Colorado? We live in Illinois and want to drive to Colorado, but I wasn’t sure whether the high altitude would affect her hearing. She already has severe loss in her left ear and moderate to severe loss in her right ear. I don’t want to take any chances with her hearing!
I can understand your dilemma. There are no guarantees that the air pressure changes in the Colorado mountains won’t affect her hearing. However, you can make an educated guess and then act accordingly. Here’s how I would do it.
First, look at her previous hearing history. If her hearing hasn’t changed much, or at all, since she was 2½, then it is unlikely that the change in air pressure will affect her now. However, if every little bang on her head has affected her hearing, that would be different.
Second, if sudden changes in air pressure (fast moving storms, or going up or down hills) cause hearing problems, then the change in altitude could do the same. But if there haven’t been any problems so far, then she will probably be fine.
Third, has she flown before? If so, did it cause any hearing problems? If not, then driving in the mountains in Colorado wouldn’t be much different than flying in a pressurized plane as they pressurize a plane to somewhere below 8,000 feet or so.
Children with LVAS who have stable hearing for a number of years have likely experienced all of the above in the past, and thus aren’t likely to be affected by similar activities in the future, including enjoying the wonders of the high mountains in Colorado.