Providing life-changing hearing surgery in Greenland

Press release from the World Health Organisation Regional Office for Europe

Asger, an 11-year-old boy from Nuuk, Greenland, suffered repeated episodes of chronic middle ear infection with pus draining from both ears as a baby. Asger’s family first noticed he was suffering hearing loss when he started school. Aged 10, he received a device to improve his hearing, a headband with a hearing aid that did not have to be put in the ear. At the same time, a new hearing test revealed a previously unknown hearing loss in the healed left ear. Asger was now classified as having disabling hearing loss.

Earlier this year Asger underwent life-changing surgery to improve his hearing.

Impact in Greenland

Greenland has a high incidence of hearing impairment. This is mainly due to suppurative otitis media (SOM), a severe form of middle ear infection resulting in drainage from the ear through a permanent perforation in the tympanic membrane, or eardrum. This is a condition that can be caused by repeated untreated middle ear infections in early childhood.

Having ears that drain of pus is common in Greenland due to both environmental and genetic factors. For some, it is considered yet another harmless disease of childhood, like a runny nose. Asger’s left ear healed spontaneously, but the right kept draining.

SOM affects 7–14% of school children in Greenland, meaning every 5th person in Greenland suffers from chronic suppurative otitis media (CSOM) during their childhood.

What is more, a child with CSOM has a very high risk (91%) of developing permanent hearing loss. Risk factors include being of Inuit descent, smoking in the household, a maternal history of CSOM, a low-level of maternal education and developing acute otitis media – a type of ear infection – at an early age.

CSOM can start within the first months of life, with the highest incidence among those aged 0–4 years.

Improving Asger’s hearing

In January 2020, Asger underwent surgery in Denmark to implant a bone-anchored hearing system in his right ear and had a regular hearing aid fitted on the left, where the tympanic membrane was intact. A specialized paediatric audiologist adjusted the two different hearing aids and when they were turned on, Asger’s first words were: “Mummy, I can hear your breathing”. This was new to Asger, and a wonderful experience for both him and his mother.

A month after this life-changing treatment and device fitting, Asger is exploring a new world of sounds that most take for granted. He told his audiologist, “I can now hear the seagulls and ravens when I am out in town, but more importantly, I can hear the traffic. I can hear the cars and busses. Now I can look after myself”. Following the treatment, Asger feels safer and more independent. His mother has noticed a huge development in his vocabulary and that he has started using longer words in conversations.

Following his treatment, Asger is a happier, freer child, who can now enjoy the music of his favourite artist, Justin Bieber, even more.

Date of publication: 4 Mar 2020

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