For children with glue ear, a condition that occurs when the middle ear is filled with thick fluid, a simple procedure with nasal balloon can help reduce the impact of hearing loss and avoid unnecessary and ineffective treatments, findings of a new study suggest.

Glue ear, also known as otitis media with effusion (OME), tend to be more common in kids because the eustachian tube, which connects the ear to the back of the nose gets clogged usually during allergy, sinus infection or pollution-linked inflammation.

Researchers said that the simple procedure known as autoinflation will avoid the use of antibiotics, which are known to be ineffective and are associated with unwanted side effects. Experts do not also recommend other treatments such as antihistamines, decongestants and intranasal steroids because they are neither effective and have undesirable effects.

For the new study published in Canadian Medical Association Journal on July 27, Ian Williamson, from the University of Southampton, and colleagues involved more than 300 children between 4 and 11 years old who had histories of glue ear. The children were either assigned to receive the balloon treatment thrice per day for up to three months, or the usual care.

The researchers found that the children who used the balloon treatment had higher odds of having normal pressure in their middle ear compared with those who received standard care. These children also had the symptoms for fewer days.

"Autoinflation in children aged 4-11 years with otitis media with effusion is feasible in primary care and effective both in clearing effusions and improving symptoms and ear-related child and parent quality of life," the researchers wrote in their study.

Williamson explained that by blowing up a balloon to the size of a big orange, the eustachian tubes open and the middle-ear pressure gets equalized. Jordan Josephson, from Lenox Hill Hospital, said that the technique is not actually new.

"When I treat children with these problems, I tell the parents to have the child blow up balloons and squeeze their nose and try to pop their ears," said Josephson. "This treatment is similar to popping your nose when your ears get clogged on airplanes."

The researchers said the simple and low-cost procedure can be taught to kids and should be widely used by children who are more than 4 years old. The balloon intervention may likewise help reduce the need for children to undergo costly tube surgeries.

Photo: CMAJ | YouTube

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