​Glue Ear: Are antibiotics and grommets the only option?


Many children will have ear infections that are painful, but generally not serious, 

and they will recover quickly. But some cases linger, and this is the most common

cause of hearing loss in children. When it lasts for a long time, speech and

language development may be affected. The main causes of ear infections are

upper respiratory tract infections and allergies. Excess mucous collects in

the ear and the bugs from the nose and sinuses spread to the area. The tube that

connects the middle ear to the nose and sinuses (the Eustachian tube) normally

allows this excess fluid to drain away. In children, this tube is smaller, meaning

that the fluid drains away less easily. It collects in the middle ear causing inflammation, 

pain and in some cases, the build-up of a sticky fluid behind the eardrum. It is then known 

as 'glue ear'.

The treatment options have included antibiotics and surgery for the Insertion of 'grommets'. 

These are small ventilation tubes that allow the draining of the excess fluid. Unfortunately 

these options are limited in their treatment success. Antibiotics have been shown in a large

clinical review to be ineffective, and experts say the insertion of grommets are helpful for six 

months only, with little benefit on speech and language development.

A recent British study of 320 children investigated a third option, known as auto inflation. 

The study showed that after three months treatment, half the children had normal middle 

ear pressure as measured by tympanogram and had more days symptom free. The simple, low

cost intervention uses a nasal balloon, marketed as Otovent, which the child blows up three times 

per day. It helps to open up the Eustachian tube, allowing the fluid to drain away from the middle ear

more easily. It needs to be done regularly - three times per day for three months.

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