The Aboriginal Ear Health Program is a NSW Health initiative to help prevent otitis media (middle ear infection) in Aboriginal children aged 0-6 years.

About otitis media

Otitis media is the inflammation and infection of the middle ear. It is a major source of ear disease in Aboriginal children, often beginning just weeks after birth, recurring frequently, and can persist into adolescence (Closing the Gap Clearinghouse: Ear disease in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children November 2014, AIHW).

Otitis media can result from a cold, allergy or respiratory virus or bacteria. If there is a build-up of fluid behind the ear, in the middle ear, this may cause ear ache, swelling and redness (called acute otitis media which prevents the ear drum from vibrating properly which leads to temporary hearing problems). Further information can be found in the Aboriginal Ear Health Guidelines.

If a child has hearing loss, their speech may be delayed which will, in turn, affect important developmental milestones. Sometimes, this can result in life-long disadvantage by affecting educational achievement and employment.

Otitis media in Aboriginal children

Some of the risk factors that make otitis media so common in Aboriginal children are:

  • exposure to tobacco smoke
  • premature birth
  • bottle feeding, especially ‘prop’ feeding and falling asleep with a bottle in the mouth
  • household overcrowding
  • malnutrition.

The number of young Aboriginal children with otitis media can be reduced if babies and young children:

  • are breastfed
  • get adequate nutrition
  • are provided safe and healthy housing conditions
  • are up-to-date with their immunisation schedule.

Aboriginal Ear Health Program – Healthy Ears, Happy Kids

NSW Health’s Aboriginal Ear Health Program Guidelines 2011-2015 addresses the issue of ear health of Aboriginal children 0-6 years.

How the NSW Aboriginal Ear Health Program works

The program works to reduce the number of young Aboriginal children affected by otitis media in a number of ways:

  • working with families – by reducing the risk factors among parents, carers and their extended families
  • working with the community – by increasing awareness of ear health in the Aboriginal community, health and education professionals to support a preventative approach and early detection
  • improving services – to Aboriginal families to lessen the impact of otitis media on health and learning.

The NSW Aboriginal Ear Health Program is delivered in collaboration with existing maternity and child and family health services, including through NSW Health services, Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations and other non- government organisations supporting Aboriginal women expecting a baby or women pregnant with an Aboriginal baby and Aboriginal children under six years.

Healthy Ears, Happy Kids resources

Healthy Ears, Happy Kids has been developed to support the Aboriginal Ear Health Program. The resources consist of:

Current as at: Tuesday 28 February 2023
Contact page owner: Maternity, Child and Family