Otis media is a build up of fluid in the middle ear cavity, which can become infected. While the condition lasts, mild or moderate hearing loss is experienced.
Otitis media is very common in children and for most non-Indigenous children, is readily treated. But for many Indigenous people, otitis media is not adequately treated. It persists in chronic forms over months and years.
As this Report Card identifies, the peak prevalence for otitis media in some Indigenous communities is age five months to nine months; with up to one-third of six-month-old infants suffering significant hearing loss. The effects of long periods of mild or moderate hearing loss at critical developmental stages can be profound. During the first 12 or so months of life, a person’s brain starts to learn to make sense of the sounds it is hearing. This is called ‘auditory processing’. If hearing is lost during this critical period, and even if normal hearing returns later, life-long disabling auditory processing disorders can remain.
Chronic otitis media is a disease in communities with poorer social determinants of health. It is a disease of the developing world. It should not be an endemic ‘massive health problem’ in Australia – one of the healthiest and wealthiest countries in the world. However the chronic otitis media crisis is occurring in too many of our Indigenous communities.
This Report Card calls for a national, systematic approach to closing the gap in the rates of chronic otitis media between Indigenous and non-Indigenous infants and children in Australia, and a response to the lasting, disabling effects and social impacts of chronic otitis media in the Indigenous adult population.
Erratum: Page 17, paragraph 4, line 5: report should read "The Little Children are Sacred".