Can swimming pools improve Indigenous children's hearing?

Project summary

The Flinders University Swimming Pool study investigated whether the use of swimming pools by school-age Indigenous children in remote semi-arid communities in central Australia results in the reduction and possible prevention of conductive hearing loss related to otitis media (OM) in these children.

Between 2009–2011, multiple clinical assessments of ear health and hearing—including ear, nose and throat (ENT) diagnoses—were conducted on 813 school age children. This allowed comparison of the results for children living in the four Anangu communities with a swimming pool to those for children living in the six communities without a pool. Many children were assessed on multiple occasions with 46 per cent of the children being assessed on at least three of the possible six occasions over the three year study period (2107 child assessments in total).

The study's results demonstrate that access to swimming pools does not result in improvement in any of three principal measured indices of hearing or ear health.

Additionally, in relation to the policy of 'no school, no pool', there is no evidence that access to a swimming pool results in improved school attendance. Further, results show previously undescribed seasonal differences in the prevalence of eardrum perforations in these Indigenous populations. These seasonal differences in prevalence occur in both Pool and Non-pool communities.

Our results contradict an earlier study in Western Australia that only investigated ear health in children in two communities with pools, and in no control communities, and claimed significant improvements to Indigenous children’s middle ear health from the use of swimming pools. This study did not recognise seasonal differences. Other Flinders SP study results show significant associations between dry eardrum perforation and hearing loss and age.

This research was funded by the Hearing Loss Prevention Program of the Department of Health and Ageing and conducted by Flinders University and its collaborating partner, the Anangu Education Service of the South Australian (SA) Department of Education and Child Development.

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Created: 03 May 2012 - Updated: 16 July 2013