New guidelines and a smartphone app are aimed at preventing and managing hearing loss in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.

Otitis media - middle ear infection - is widespread in Indigenous communities. 

In Australia’s remote communities, only one in 10 Aboriginal children under the age of 3 years has healthy ears. Five have otitis media (OM) with effusion, or “glue ear”; and four have suppurative OM — acute OM with or without perforation or chronic suppurative OM; three in 10 have disabling hearing impairment.

Childhood chronic ear infections and hearing impairment can affect communication, relationships, and quality of life from soon after birth through toddler years, schooling, and later employment opportunities. 

Improved ear and hearing health are critical to Closing the Gap outcomes and targets.

New guidelines have been issued by a collaborative research team from institutes across Australia. 

The guidelines call for a range of changes, including; 

  • Targeted recommendations for both high and low risk children

  • New tympanostomy tube otorrhoea section

  • New Priority 5 for health services: annual and catch-up ear health checks for at-risk children

  • Antibiotics are strongly recommended for persistent otitis media with effusion in high risk children

  • Azithromycin is strongly recommended for acute otitis media where adherence is difficult or there is no access to refrigeration

  • Concurrent audiology and surgical referrals are recommended where delays are likely

  • Surgical referral is recommended for chronic suppurative otitis media at the time of diagnosis

  • The use of autoinflation devices is recommended for some children with persistent otitis media with effusion

  • Definitions for mild (21–30 dB) and moderate (> 30 dB) hearing impairment have been updated

The experts are also pushing a new “OM app”, developed to enable free fast access to the guidelines, plus images, animations, and multiple Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander language audio translations to aid communication with families.

The new digital app and website, OMapp, have been designed to be used in the clinic.

The app and updated guidelines are accessible here.