The Dragonfly Story

Indigenous & Non-Indigenous Children

While existing evidence indicates that the incidence rates of CHL / OM in non-Indigenous children are increasing, much of the research available relates to the occurrence of CHL / OM in Indigenous populations.

In 2009 Williams & Jacobs1 suggested that the occurrence of CHL / OM in Indigenous children may have a greater impact in these children than non-Indigenous children in Australia. Indigenous children may experience their first bout of conductive hearing loss as young as 6 – 8 weeks. Research shows that by the time an Indigenous child reaches the age of 14 he or she may have suffered the effects of many repeated periods of conductive hearing loss due to otitis media. If we were to add up the total time an Indigenous child may have been afflicted by conductive hearing loss by the age of 14, it would probably add up to more than 2 years or 14% of the Indigenous child’s life. In contrast most non-Indigenous children are likely to have suffered the same effects for a period of 2 months or less. Therefore the potential impact of CHL / OM on an Indigenous child’s development is much greater.

A high incidence of otitis media is not restricted to Australian Indigenous children alone. For example research has shown that the Inuit children in Canada, Native Americans and the South Pacific Islanders also experience high incidence of CHL / OM in their early childhood2. While it’s difficult to identify all the factors which contribute to a high incidence rate of CHL / OM in Indigenous children, Couzos, Metcalf & Murray (2001) 3 suggested that:

  • under nutrition
  • crowded living conditions
  • lack of medical attention especially in remote areas
  • bottle feeding
  • the exposure to passive smoking

may contribute to the high occurrence of CHL / OM in Indigenous children.

At the same time research has shown that non-Indigenous children who attend child care centres are up to 5 times more at risk of suffering repeated occurrences of otitis media and conductive hearing loss. This increased chance is thought to be linked to children attending such centres being more at risk of exposure to bacterial and viral agents that cause respiratory disease.

While we now recognise that the occurance of CHL / OM in Indigenous children is high, in many cases it may still go undetected.

Williams, C., & Jacobs, A. (2009). The impact of otitis media on cognitive and educational outcomes. Medical Journal of Australia, 191(9), S69 – S72. 

2 World Health Organisation (2000) Prevention of Hearing Impairment from Chronic Otitis Media. Report of a WHO/CIBA Foundation Workshop.

3 Couzos, S., Metcalf, S., & Murray, R. (2001). Systematic review of existing evidence and primary care guidelines on the management of Otitis Media in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Populations. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.