Australian researchers from Perth's Telethon Institute for Child Health have found a strong link between childhood ear infections and exposure to tobacco smoke. Their findings, appearing in the Medical Journal of Australia, are based on an investigation into the causes of otitis media (middle ear infections) in nearly 300 Aboriginal and Caucasian children.
Dr Deborah Lehmann, who heads the Institute's infectious diseases research, said ear infections were the most common reason that young children see a doctor and can cause life-long problems. "Up to 20 per cent of children have more than three ear infections between 1 and 2 years of age. If their hearing is damaged, it can seriously affect their educational outcomes and social circumstances in adulthood," Lehmann noted.
Key findings from the project include:
Lehmann said there is evidence that passive smoking can increase the adherence of bacteria in the respiratory passages and depress the immune system. She estimates that if exposure to tobacco smoke were eliminated, ear infections could be reduced by 27 percent in Aboriginal children and 16 percent in non-Aboriginal children
- Otitis media was diagnosed at least once in 74 percent of Aboriginal children and 45 percent of non-Aboriginal children.
- Sixty-four percent of Aboriginal children and 40 percent of non-Aboriginal children were exposed to environmental tobacco smoke.
"These results highlight the importance of reducing children's exposure to passive smoking, and this is particularly important for Aboriginal people where the rates of both smoking and otitis media are high," she said.
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Source: Research Australia