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Getting to Know Dr Low Wong Kein Christopher

"I believe in ‘Best Practices and Best Outcomes’ as there is no one-size-fits-all approach."

Dr Low Wong Kein is an ear, nose, throat specialist practising at Parkway East Hospital. Dr Low’s special interest is in treating ear disorders in both children and adults. These include hearing loss, vertigo (giddiness), tinnitus (ringing/buzzing in the ear) and ear infections and cancers.

  • Specialty:

    • Otorhinolaryngology
  • Qualifications

    • Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery, National University of Singapore
    • Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons (Otolaryngology), Glasgow, UK
    • Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons (Otolaryngology), Edinburgh, UK
    • Fellow of the Academy of Medicine, Singapore ((Otolaryngology)
    • Doctor of Philosophy, National University of Singapore
    • Graduate Diploma in Acupuncture, Singapore College of Traditional Chinese Medicine
  • Languages Spoken

    • Cantonese
    • English
    • Hokkien
    • Mandarin

Getting to Know Dr Low Wong Kein Christopher

Getting to Know Dr Low Wong Kein Christopher

Q: Please share with us some of your experiences as a doctor.

I am currently an adjunct associate professor at the NUS-Duke Graduate Medical School and a medical board member of the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore. I previously worked at Singapore General Hospital as the head of its ENT Department and director of its Centre for Hearing and Ear Implants. #readmore

In 2001, I led a team to implement a universal newborn hearing screening programme in Singapore. Having run regular clinics as a visiting specialist at KK Children’s and Women’s Hospital for a number of years, I have experience in managing children with other general ENT conditions such as tonsil infections, adenoids, Eustachian tube dysfunction and bleeding/sensitive nose.  

With an interest in research which can potentially improve treatment outcomes in patients with various ENT disorders, I was fortunate enough to be nominated for National Outstanding Clinician in the inaugural National Medical Excellence Award in 2008. I have over the years authored more than 70 peer-reviewed publications in journals and books, including on topics concerning hearing, vertigo, nose cancer, blocked nose, headaches and snoring.

I am honoured to have the opportunity to take on several leadership roles in the training and education of ENT doctors. These include being a founding member and the President of the ASEAN Academy of Neuro-otology and Audiology, Chairman of Singapore’s Specialist Training Committee, Director of Singhealth’s ENT Residency Programme and President of the Singapore Otorhinolaryngology Society. 

I do my part in giving back to society by setting aside time for volunteerism. Besides being the past president of the Singapore Association for the Deaf, I have visited countries like China and Indonesia to help needy patients.

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Q: What kind of conditions do you treat, or specialise in treating?

I treat all general conditions relating to ENT in both children and adults, with subspecialisation in ear-related conditions like hearing loss, vertigo (giddiness), tinnitus (noise in ear), ear infections and tumours. #readmore

Singapore’s tropical, warm and humid weather is conducive for ear infections, particularly by fungus. The changing dietary habits among Singaporeans promote obesity, a risk factor for diabetes, which again favours infection. Therefore, it is not surprising that ear infections form a sizeable proportion of the conditions that I treat in my clinic. These infections commonly affect the outer or middle ear, and the accompanying symptoms include ear discharge, pain, itchiness and blockage.

Inner ear dysfunction is another common problem that patients present with. Now, the inner ear has two functions: hearing and balance. The ear relies on viable hair cells in the cochlear part of the inner ear to hear. Humans are born with a finite number of cochlear hair cells which do not significantly regenerate when lost. Old age or frequent exposure to excessively loud noises can lead to the loss of cochlear hair cells, resulting in hearing loss or tinnitus (hallucination of sounds).

People here are at higher risk for 2 reasons: firstly, Singapore has the second fastest ageing population in Asia after Japan and secondly, young Singaporeans are increasingly being exposed to leisure-noise such as the use of MP3 players and going to discotheques.

When it comes to balance, the vestibular part of the inner ear is involved. Dysfunction here results in vertigo, dizziness or naturally, imbalance. Vestibular disorders like Meniere’s disease is aggravated by stress, which is becoming more prevalent in Singapore because of our fast-paced lifestyles. 

To treat these conditions, I have an armamentarium of medical and surgical tools, ranging from simple to complex. The most appropriate tool is chosen on the basis of best practices and evidence-based medicine, taking into consideration factors like necessity, efficacy, associated risks and cost-effectiveness.

Most ear infections, for example, can be treated with the appropriate antibiotics. However, in certain infective conditions, surgery is recommended to prevent serious complications. In hearing loss, the treatment ranges from something as simple as wearing hearing aids to cochlear implantation, which I have been performing since 1997.

Treating vertigo resulting from Meniere’s disease often involves restricting the patient’s salt intake or prescribing medication though at times, intra-tympanic gentamicin injections or more invasive types of surgery can be considered. For patients with persistent and disturbing tinnitus, treatment such as medication and modulated-sound therapy may be useful.

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Q: Do you perform any kind of special treatments? If so, please share a little here.

As a recognised expert in managing ear conditions, I once thought to myself that it was not enough for me to be good with just the current standard medical treatment in this field. I had been curious about Traditional Chinese Medicine and Cell & Molecular Biology, topics that were not well-covered during my days in medical school. #readmore

I had always wondered if there was merit for certain aspects of these to be applied in modern and future treatment to improve treatment outcomes. That made me decide to do a part-time PhD course at the National University of Singapore and a Graduate Diploma Course in Acupuncture at the Singapore College of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

With these additional qualifications under my belt, I am now able to apply past and future medical perspectives to current-day medical practice, putting me in a truly unique position to holistically advise and treat patients to attain best possible outcomes. For example, I perform acupuncture to complement modern Western treatment in certain conditions which I believe it can make a difference.

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Q: Could you share your philosophy in treating patients?

I believe in ‘Best Practices and Best Outcomes’. I do not believe in a ‘one size fits all’ approach as each individual or groups of individuals may be different from each other. For example, Caucasians are generally bigger in size and may well have variants in ear structures that are different from Asians. Such differences, if any, may warrant differences in treatment approaches.  #readmore

Most of the standard treatment today is based on western literature, and studies on Asian patients are lacking in many areas. Out of curiosity years ago, I decided to study racial differences in the anatomy of the facial nerve in the ear bone. I found interesting differences and I have since published these findings in international journals. Such knowledge is important as it could help to prevent paralysis of the face caused by nerve injury during complex ear surgeries.

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Q: Briefly describe a particularly difficult case that you successfully treated using your expertise.

I had a patient who was deaf and almost completely blind. He needed a cochlear implant but he had an abnormal ear bone which made it technically very challenging to perform the surgery. Realising what it meant for him to at least be able to hear, I had to muster all my experience and skills to perform the surgery without complications. The surgery was a success and he has been very grateful for it.

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Q: In what ways do you think your expertise can improve your patients’ lives?

Since performing the first paediatric cochlear implant in Singapore in 1997, I went on to perform several hundred more. Not too long ago, we had a gathering of a group of cochlear implant recipients who had attained excellent PSLE results. I have also received wedding invitations from some who have grown up and gone on to start their own families. #readmore

The advent of cochlear implantation is a main reason for the declining enrolment in the Singapore School of the Deaf, where signing is the main mode of communication. 

I have grateful adult patients who were able to return to the work of their choice after hearing restoration with the cochlear implant. I vividly recall an elderly patient saying that he treasured his hearing after cochlear implantation, because he was able to hear again during church service which was important to him at that stage of life.

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