Hearing Care for our Remote Community

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An interview Sandra Lee, Victorian Hearing Audiologist

At Victorian Hearing, we believe everyone should have access to good quality, client centred ear care provided by experienced audiologists. This commitment aligns with this year’s theme from World Hearing Day in the month of March. The Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, from the World Health Organisation, summarised it as “Changing mindsets: Let’s make ear and hearing care a reality for all!”. This is exactly what our audiologist, Sandra Lee, achieved with the support of Victorian Hearing during her trip to Central Australia. Our interview with Sandra sheds light on the significance of remote audiology work and its impact on communities in need.

Tell us, what is remote audiology work?

I teamed up with Northern Territory Health for remote audiology work this year. This involved driving about 8-10 hours away from Alice Springs into a local indigenous community, to provide ear care services. Often, I don’t have any internet access or cell phone coverage whilst out in the bush. These communities are also typically not accessible to the general public, and we require special passes into these lands. I conduct hearing assessments and look into ears to diagnose ear disease and hearing loss. It is definitely a team effort. I travel with a nurse who administers medicine and captures images of the ears for review by an Ear, Nose, and Throat Specialist. Additionally, an Aboriginal health worker accompanies us, assisting with otoscopy (examining the ears) and managing the patient caseload. We typically visit these communities once or twice a year.

Is there a difference between remote work and urban work back in Victoria?

Yes, most definitely. The prevalence of middle ear disease is much higher in Indigenous populations. In 2021, the most prevalent ear condition among the 1,113 diagnosed children was Eustachian tube dysfunction, closely followed by otitis media with effusion (commonly known as glue ear), and then conditions characterised by pus and chronic discharge from the ears. 22% of the cases presented with conductive hearing loss, typically resulting from an obstruction hindering sound transmission through the ear canal or middle ear, such as blockages in the outer or middle ear. Amongst the children, hearing loss is particularly high in the age group of 3-5. Every second child I saw in my time there had a perforated eardrum.

With limited access to hearing health, how do your short trips help the people in these communities?

As well as diagnosing hearing loss and treating ear infections, a large part of my role is health promotion and education. Simple hygiene goes a long way, and we teach the same helpful tips here in Victoria as we do in the outback. This includes reminding kids to wash their face, blow their nose to remove fluid, and keep their ears dry when they have a hole in their ear drum. The high quality photos we take of the children’s ears with perforations can fast track them to a surgical wait list so it can be addressed. It is good to see dry ears in communities when we have visited in the past and done a lot of health promotion. This equates to lower levels of hearing loss and diseases!

What were the highlights and lowlights of the trip?

A highlight is definitely working with the local radio station to do a health promotion about ears. I created a short rap song that was to be broadcasted across a few Indigenous communities to promote the message that caring for ears is both exciting and vital. To make a small difference in one’s life by returning the gift of hearing is great to see.

A lowlight is definitely the harsh conditions and times when the community does not care as much about their ears. It is the same lowlight in urban centres such as Victoria. As audiologists we know hearing is critical. Hearing connects us to family, friends, creates memories and brings opportunity. Research is also showing hearing well promotes brain health, better cognition and even longer lives! Therefore, it always breaks my heart when one denies their hearing loss or delays hearing assistance. More work needs to be done in remote areas and I am glad I can be a small part of it.

Any final messages for our readers today?

Whilst we have easy access to ear care, I encourage your family and friends to have their hearing checked and attended to. At Victorian Hearing our team is client centred and they do go above and beyond to help. Whilst remote communities wait a year to be seen, you don’t have to! We are but a phone call away to a discussion to better quality hearing and lifestyle choices.

If you have concerns about your hearing, reach out to the team at Victorian Hearing, your local, independent, and Australian owned and operated hearing clinic. With ten clinics across Melbourne, you are sure to find a friendly smile and support from the Victorian Hearing team. Call (03) 9558 8842 or book online.