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Treatment hope for glue ear and hearing loss among children

August 9th, 2013

Dr Ruth Thornton

Dr Ruth Thornton

Western Australia’s Aboriginal children, in urban and remote communities, endure not only disproportionate rates of otitis media – glue ear – but indeed horrific rates. However, where Governments have let down these children dedicated university researchers have stepped in.

One such researcher is University of Western Australia’s Dr Ruth Thornton.

Dr Thornton is part of UWA’s School of Paediatric and Child Health team which has been researching hearing loss and in turn tackle ear infections which can be painful.

Painful ear infections in children mean sleepless nights for families, and the loss of formative development in children whose education is significantly affected by hearing loss.

Only early last year a sample screening test by the Child Health Telethon Institute of WA found that 80 per cent of children in Roebourne (Pilbara) were found to have otitis media. Most of Roebourne’s population is of the Yindjibarndi people.

A university research team have been studying recurrent middle-ear infections to find out why antibiotics are not working. The team found that many of these infections lead to impenetrable slimy biofilms. Clinical drug trials are now underway to break up the secretion.

University of Western Australia’s Paediatric and Health Unit’s Dr Thornton is part of a team working to ensure treatment now they have found the problem.

“We are now trialing treatment in the ears of children when they have grommets inserted,” said Dr Thornton.

She said the trial may find, eliminate the bacteria and “stop children getting more infections and needing more ear surgery.”

Glue ear often leads to recurrences and infections of a chronic nature, leading to hearing loss and learning difficulties. It is a huge issue among Aboriginal communities in the the mid- and north- of Western Australia, and right throughout the Northern Territory.

Dr Thornton said that the treatment if successful “will hopefully lead to improved hearing, better learning outcomes, and a reduced burden on children and their families.”

A November 2011 Australian Institute of Health Welfare report found the Northern Territory’s Aboriginal children were at risk from ear disease and hearing loss having waited more than two years for specialist audiological care. Federal Health minister Warren Snowdon has acknowledged that ear disease among Aboriginal children remains critically high.

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