The importance of physical health: The impact of otitis media on hearing loss and education outcomes

Damien Howard

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Hearing is the sense that most structures our social engagement. Conductive hearing loss is caused by middle ear disease which is the most common reason young children visit doctors in the Western world. Yet, 90% of the burden of conductive hearing loss is in developing countries, especially among disadvantaged communities. Indigenous people in Australia have one of the worst profiles of ear disease and hearing loss in the world. However, the access to first-world audiological and medical resources has catalogued the associated problems in ways that have occurred little elsewhere. An unidentified mild to moderate hearing loss usually leads to persistent negative social interactions. It also disrupts classroom learning that relies primarily on ‘teacher talk’. Growing up in crowded noisy houses, both spreads ear infections as well as exacerbating the impact of hearing loss by having many others in the family with a hearing loss. When hearing loss is experienced early in life it influences the development of social skills, psychological well-being and educational engagement. Children do develop compensatory communication skills, such as visual observation and analysis. However, this is most effective if the people they communicate with also use visually rich communication strategies. Teacher training and access to classroom support from familiar local community members are the least expensive support interventions, while improving school acoustics and use of sound field systems are also valuable. The work with Indigenous people in Australia gives both information that can be useful elsewhere, as well as pitfalls to avoid. A health only focus, which aims to prevent and treat ear disease, while neglecting efforts to mitigate the adverse impacts of hearing loss should be avoided. A holistic and collaborative partnership involving health, education and other agencies is ideal.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHealth and Education Interdependence
Subtitle of host publicationThriving from Birth to Adulthood
EditorsRichard Midford, Georgie Nutton, Brendon Hyndman, Sven Silburn
PublisherSpringer Singapore
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9789811539596
ISBN (Print)9789811539589
Publication statusPublished - 2020


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