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Indigenous children experiencing fewer hearing problems

Neve Brissenden -

Indigenous children are experiencing fewer ear and hearing problems, though rates are still excessive and preventable.

New data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has revealed the proportion of Indigenous children under 14 with an ear or hearing problem declined from 11 per cent in 2001 to 6.9 per cent in 2019.

AIHW spokesperson Jo Baker said the new data marked a promising step forward for communities.

"Hearing problems in children can affect speech, language, thinking skills and behavioural development," Ms Baker said.

"First Nations people and in particular children, experience high rates of ear and hearing problems, which can have profound impacts on overall health and quality of life."

While the decrease is promising, the research found three in 10 Indigenous children still experienced hearing loss in 2019, jumping to four in 10 in remote areas.

In the broader community, 43 percent of Indigenous people aged 7 and over had measured hearing loss.

The report found social and economic disadvantage to be contributing to greater rates of untreated acute and chronic ear infections among Indigenous people.

University of Newcastle ear, nose and throat surgeon Kelvin Kong said most ear disease and hearing loss affecting Indigenous people is preventable.

'Access to culturally safe ear and hearing health specialist services is crucial for First Nations people to seek and receive timely diagnosis and treatment,' Professor Kong said.

He said middle ear infections are the main cause of hearing loss among children and young people, and early detection is vital for appropriate treatment.

The report found the number of audiology services available to children are on the rise, and almost 98 per cent of babies had their hearing tested after birth.

It also found that in 2022, 36 per cent of Indigenous people under 25 years old with a hearing device were less than four when first fitted, compared with 10 per cent in 2008.

Neve Brissenden - AAP


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