What you need to know about middle ear infections

What is otitis media?

Middle ear infection (otitis media) and mild hearing loss is common among young children, particularly from preschool to primary school.

However, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, the problem is much bigger and is quite a different issue. This is due to middle ear disease beginning very early in life and is usually not easy to treat. This leads to a much greater incidence of hearing loss, which, if it goes on long enough, can become a permanent hearing loss.

“It’s very common for young children,” says Samantha Harkus, Hearing Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Services Principal Audiologist.

Why is it so common?

The higher prevalence of otitis media among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children relates to living situations, including housing, nutrition and other environmental issues.

Bacteria enters the middle ear and causes inflammation, which can lead to hearing loss. It can be treated, and should be a temporary problem. However, it’s not always easily identified. It’s believed that once the middle ear is colonised with the bacteria that cause otitis media, it’s more prone to ongoing infections.


There are ways to reduce the risk of otitis media within the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Education is crucial in particular, it’s important to inform people about the harmful effects of passive smoking, which is known to have an impact; the importance of good health and nutrition; and to influence housing standards to avoid overcrowding, which increases disease transmission.

The primary health message is prevention. Simple things like blowing your nose, washing your hands properly and ensuring germs aren’t spread are part of the message.

Our role is to do the best we can to try and make sure the kids who have middle ear disease are hearing as well as possible at school and at home.

What can be done?

Once a child has been referred to us, they can be helped with hearing aids which are fitted free of charge. We can also address hearing issues with strategies and support.

For children, being able to enjoy a normal school life is important. If amplification is required, we'll work with schools to create a better classroom environment.

Hearing Australia is the nation’s largest provider of government funded hearing services for children, young adults up to the age of 26, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, pensioners and veterans. For more information please contact us.

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