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This project was the first randomised controlled trial to evaluate the impact of swimming on Indigenous children with otitis media (OM). Previous observational studies had suggested that swimming was associated with significant reductions in ear disease.
In this study, 321 children (5-12 years of age) from Nguiu and Wadeye in the Northern Territory were screened for OM. There were 89 children found to have an ear drum perforation and with parental consent, were randomised to a swimming group or control group. Children in the swimming group swam daily for one month, while children in the control group were restricted from swimming for one month.
At the end of the month, the children's ears were re-examined. The prevalence of ear discharge was comparable between swimmers and non-swimmers. There was also no significant difference in the OM-related bacteria present in the middle ear and nasopharynx (passage that connects the nasal cavity to the top of the throat) between study groups.
These findings suggest that it is unlikely that intensive swimming lessons will substantially reduce rates of chronic suppurative otitis media and associated bacteria. However, swimming was not associated with increased risk of ear discharge and the research team found no reason to discourage it.
Abstract adapted from Menzies School of Health Research
Menzies School of Health Research