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Drug-free treatment found for ‘glue ear’

Medical professionals have found a nasal balloon can be used to treat children with a common middle ear problem, avoiding the use of antibiotics.

Otitis media with effusion, more commonly known as ‘glue ear’, is a condition in which the middle ear fills with a thick fluid, hampering hearing development. Figures from Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital show two-thirds of children have at least one occurrence of the lesser form of this condition – acute otitis media – by age 3, and 90 per cent have an episode by the time they start school. Symptoms of this condition include ear redness, fever, ear pain, fluid discharge from the ear, and congestion.

Glue ear, the more serious form, is often without obvious symptoms, meaning many parents seek treatment only when they suspect their children have hearing difficulties.

Researchers from the UK have found in small, randomised hospital trials that a child blowing through both nostrils into a nozzle to inflate a balloon is effective in bringing middle-ear pressure to normal levels. They said this is preferable to antibiotic or antihistamine treatments.

“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,” said Dr Ian Williamson from the University of Southampton, a co-author of the study.

Medical professionals said the balloon method, called autoinflation, has the potential to become the preferred treatment for glue ear for children over the age of 4. The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners will also include autoinflation as a treatment for this condition in its Handbook of Non-Drug Interventions.

The study’s findings are published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

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