A simple procedure using a nasal balloon can help reduce the impact of hearing loss in children and potentially avoid unnecessary ear-tube surgery and antibiotics, according to a new study.
Inflating the balloon by blowing through each nostril in turn opens up the Eustachian tubes and promotes drainage of thick fluid filling the middle ear.
Researchers tested the “autoinflation” technique on 320 children aged four to 11 from 43 family doctor practices in the UK. All had a history of otitis media with effusion, or glue ear, with fluid confirmed in at least one ear.
After three months, nearly half the treated children had normal middle-ear pressure compared with 38.3% of those who did not undergo the procedure.
They also experienced significantly fewer parent-reported symptoms including hearing difficulty, earache, and sleep disturbance.
Lead researcher Dr Ian Williamson, from the University of Southampton, said: “Unfortunately, all available medical treatments for otitis media with effusion such as antibiotics, antihistamines, decongestants and intranasal steroids, are ineffective and have unwanted effects, and therefore cannot be recommended.
“Autoinflation is a simple, low-cost procedure that can be taught to young children in a primary care setting with a reasonable expectation of compliance.
“We have found use of autoinflation in young, school-aged children with otitis media with effusion to be feasible, safe and effective in clearing effusions, and in improving important ear symptoms, concerns and related quality of life over a three-month watch-and-wait period.
The findings are reported in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
Previously, the balloon procedure had only been demonstrated in small hospital trials. The authors said the treatment should be used more widely in children over the age of four to manage glue ear and alleviate hearing loss.
An estimated 200,000 children in the UK receive professional help for glue ear each year. There is a four in five chance a child will suffer from ear effusion in the first 10 years of life.