Hearing loss and ear conditions common among Indigenous children—but some improvements seen

Hearing loss and ear conditions are very common among Indigenous children and young people, but outreach services have yielded some positive outcomes, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, Hearing health outreach services to Indigenous children and young people in the Northern Territory: 2012-13 and 2013-14 looks at ear and hearing outreach services delivered between July 2012 and June 2014 under the Australian Government's National Partnership Agreement on Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory and the Healthy Ears-Better Hearing, Better Listening Programs. The services are targeted towards children with high need so the report's findings are not representative of the total NT Indigenous population under 21.

The report shows that in 2013-14, 2,122 outreach audiology services were delivered to 1,764 Indigenous children and young people. Hearing loss was found in 55%, but hearing health improved for a large proportion of the children who received two or more services.

'Out of 498 children and young people who had hearing loss at their first audiology service, 41% experienced improvements in their hearing. Twenty-six per cent regained normal hearing in both ears at their last check, and 15% had their hearing loss improve so that only one ear was affected, not both,' said AIHW spokesperson Dr Fadwa Al-Yaman.

The report also shows that middle ear infections were common among the children and young people who received services. Of those who received an audiology or ear, nose and throat (ENT) service in 2013-14, 67% were diagnosed with at least one type of middle ear condition-an increase from 61% in 2012-13.

'This increase may be related to the new service priority system implemented from 1 January 2013, which could mean that those with worse ear health are more likely to be captured in the data collection than was the case in previous years,' explained Dr Al-Yaman.

'The demand for these services is high, and the priority system enables limited resources to be provided to those most in need,' she added.

Despite this, improvements have been seen. Among the 781 children and young people who received two or more ENT or audiology services from July 2012 to June 2014, there was a drop in the proportion diagnosed with at least one middle ear condition between their first and last service from 79% to 76%.

'Improvements were also seen in those who received three or more services since August 2007, with a fall in the proportion of children and young people diagnosed with at least one middle ear condition from 81% at first service to 55% at last service,' Dr Al-Yaman said.

Data on the seven regionally based Child Hearing Health Coordinators, including services provided, types of referrals and the diagnosis of children seen by the coordinators, are also outlined in the report.

The AIHW is a major national agency set up by the Australian Government to provide reliable, regular and relevant information and statistics on Australia's health and welfare.


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