Issue 7 - 6 August 2013 enews home

Swimming pools unlikely to impact ear disease rates

By Richmond Hodgson


Menzies PhD candidate Anna Stephen

Research by the Menzies School of Health Research (Menzies) has found that swimming pools are unlikely to significantly reduce or increase levels of severe middle ear disease in remote Aboriginal communities.

A study by Menzies PhD candidate Anna Stephen, published in the latest Medical Journal of Australia, found that swimming in chlorinated pools did little to either improve or worsen the rates of chronic suppurative otitis media (CSOM) - perforation of the eardrum with discharge from the middle ear.

Ms Stephen said that in the Northern Territory, about 50-80 per cent of Indigenous children with CSOM suffered from moderate to severe hearing loss.

“In this population otitis media can develop in the first weeks of life and commonly progresses to a chronic disease, which can be associated with educational disadvantage and delays in the development of speech and language and social disadvantage in adulthood,” she said.

Ms Stephen said that several studies suggested that swimming may have a cleansing effect on skin and ear disease among Indigenous children.

“This study sought to evaluate the impact of daily swimming on rates of ear discharge among Aboriginal children to support a best practice treatment model for remote communities.”

The study involved a controlled trial in which 89 Aboriginal children with eardrum perforations from Nguiu and Wadeye were randomly assigned to two groups.

The intervention group of 41 children swam for 45 minutes, five days a week for four weeks, without a cap or earplugs. The control group of 48 children was restricted from swimming for four weeks.

“At the completion of the four weeks no significant changes in the microbiology of the nasopharynx (uppermost part of the pharynx) and middle ear in swimmers or non-swimmers was observed,” Ms Stephen said.

“While swimming lessons for Aboriginal children in remote communities should be supported, we’ve found it unlikely that it will substantially reduce rates of chronic middle ear infection.”

Funding for this study was provided by the Sidney Myer Foundation and the National Health and Medical Research Council.