Apunipima reduces Otitis Media and hearing loss in Cape York school kids

Hearing Awareness Week and Speech Pathology Week coincide this week and provide a platform to highlight achievements being made in Cape York by Apunipima’s Audiologist Kristen Wallin.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, especially children and young adults, have more ear disease and hearing loss than other Australians. Kristen has important messages for families:
• have kids’ ears checked early and whenever they are taken to the health clinic
• good hygiene habits along with nutritious food will help improve ear health.
Kristen works to increase the number of Cape York children receiving hearing checks. She revealed data at the World Congress of Audiology in Brisbane in May 2014 that shows Apunipima’s work is reducing rates of middle ear infection or “Otitis Media” which affects Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children disproportionately to non-Indigenous children. Kristen said:
“Apunipima is focusing on the schedule of Medicare Health Checks which prompts us to examine kid’s ears. Older children should have an ear check at least once a year during their health check, and children under the age of three (who are much more susceptible to middle ear infections) will be checked on several occasions throughout the year while staff are performing general health checks.
“Otitis Media is linked to the same bacteria that cause colds and chest infections. These bacteria access the middle ear from where they live, in the back of the throat. In non-Indigenous children, Otitis Media often resolves after the age of three, as the respiratory system improves with growth. In Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, this is often not the case.
“The reasons for this include poorer access to healthy food in community and higher rates of crowded housing. In addition, high rates of passive smoking means that the membranes that line the nose, throat, lungs and middle ears are more often inflamed and producing mucus. So Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are more likely to have stubborn hearing losses that persist into their schooling years – well after the hearing should have returned to normal levels. And this is certainly the case on Cape York.
“The research I presented at the World Congress shows that Cape York has been making very positive changes that are reducing the rates of chronic Otitis Media and hearing loss in school aged children.”
Kristen educates nurses and doctors throughout Cape York on how to confidently diagnose the different types of middle ear infections and to know the different treatments that are recommended.
She also works to support Cape York teachers in managing children with ear infections in the classroom and ensures that visiting Ear Nose and Throat doctors or hearing aid specialists are spending their time with the clients that need it most.
Together with partner organisations, Apunipima’s team have been highlighting the importance of nutrition in ear health and teaching kids about good hygiene; the importance of blowing their nose instead of wiping it with their hands, the importance of washing their hands after using the bathroom and before eating to limit bacteria transmission.
The implications of compromised hearing are significant for children and Kristen says her primary goal is to work out which Cape York kids need help to listen and learn:
“If children can’t hear, they can’t learn. When children have ongoing Otitis Media, they can’t hear all the different speech sounds, so they become delayed in learning language. While many of them eventually catch up, the rules of language and the way to speak and write properly never come easily for these kids. Children with ongoing Otitis Media don’t learn to pay attention the way other kids do, so they have more behaviour problems, they get bored or distracted more easily. You can tell that these problems will become a disaster once they are in school.
“As skills in reading and maths fall behind, teenagers become ashamed of “being dumb” and tend to drop out of school early. Low levels of education mean fewer opportunities to find a job. This produces more shame, and reduces a person’s pride in themselves.
“So when we don’t act to help kids with ongoing Otitis Media, the long term effects are a disaster for families and communities. The good news is there are lots of things we can do to improve opportunities for these kids if we catch onto it early!”
For more information about hearing health on Cape York visit: http://www.apunipima.org.au/newsevents/item/501-hearing-health-on-cape-york
For more information about Apunipima Cape York Health Council visit: www.apunipima.org.au
Media enquiries: 07 4037 7256 / 0439 269 288

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