Otitis media with effusion (OME – colloquially known as “glue ear”) is a condition common in children (see hearing loss in children) between 6 months and 3 years of age in which fluid builds up in the middle ear. A new study indicates that autoinflation – a medical technique in which the Eustachian tube is reopened by nasal balloons – might be the first evidence-based, non-surgical treatment option available for OME.
The Eustachian tube is a tube inside the head that connects the ear to the back of the throat. The Eustachian tube’s main purpose is to drain fluid from the ear into the throat to stop bacteria from collecting in the ear.
When the Eustachian tube is underdeveloped (as in children) or is inflamed, bacteria and fluid can build up, causing hearing loss and ear infections. The fluid blocks sound from entering the ear which can make sounds fuzzy or muffled.
Dr. Ian Williamson led the research team at the University of Southampton in England. In the study, 320 children ages 4 to 11 with OME were treated with either nasal balloons 3 times a day with usual care or with usual care alone.
After 3 months, 49.6% of the balloon-treated children indicated improvements in their hearing tests (tympanograms) whereas only 38.3% of the control group (children who were not treated with the balloons) showed improvements in their hearing tests. Williamson and his team also reported that there was a strong but insignificant trend toward improvement at 1 month in those that were treated with autoinflation.
Dr. Williamson and his team concluded that the balloon procedure (autoinflation) has been proven to be effective in treating otitis media with effusion in children ages 4 – 11 years and is “effective both in clearing effusions and improving symptoms and ear-related child and parent quality of life.” With each balloon costing approximately $15 USD, the treatment is relatively affordable.