New study tracks impact of early ear infections

Investigators at the University of Auckland Centre for Longitudinal Research He Ara ki Mua have been awarded close to $1.2 million (over three years) in the recently announced Health Research Council of New Zealand funding round.

The grant will support research which aims to determine whether the number of ear infections (otitis media) children have in their preschool years is associated with an increased risk of impaired hearing and other adverse developmental outcomes at four and a half years of age.

Lead investigator and paediatrician, Associate Professor Cameron Grant says that the foundations for subsequent child development are laid during the preschool years.

“Ear infections are a prevalent early life health issue and it is crucial that we understand their impact on children’s development,” he says.

The multidisciplinary team, which includes investigators from the Universities of Auckland and Otago, Massey University, Starship Children’s Hospital (Auckland) and Harvard University, Boston, will draw on data from the contemporary New Zealand longitudinal study of child development Growing Up in New Zealand. The cohort comprises an ethnically and socioeconomically diverse sample of children generalizable to the New Zealand population.

Investigators will use objective measures of otitis media episodes and of hearing, language, cognitive, social or behavioural development to determine what impact the medical and surgical management of otitis media has on these outcomes.

“Hearing impairment during childhood has long term effects on language, communication, education and behaviour,” says Dr Grant. “We shall determine the potential for these outcomes to be improved by the prevention and timely treatment of otitis media.”