Blowing balloons 'treats glue ear'

Child inflates balloon Image copyright CMAJ

Using the nose to inflate a balloon helps heal glue ear, University of Southampton research suggests.

The act increases the pressure in the ear to clear it of sticky mucus.

Three times a day, 320 children with glue ear used nasal balloons. A month later, 47% were clear of the condition, compared with 36% of those untreated.

Glue ear affects about four in five children by their 10th birthday. Antibiotics, steroids, decongestants and antihistamines are all ineffective.

The Eustachian tube carries air from the back of the nose to the middle ear.

This space, just behind the eardrum, contains three tiny, delicate bones critical for passing sounds waves through the ear.

Glue ear stops the bones moving and impairs hearing.

In severe cases, a surgical procedure to cut a hole in the ear drum in order to let the fluid drain is necessary.

Image copyright SPL

Dr Ian Williamson, one of the researchers, said some doctors were already using the balloons, but the evidence had been limited to small trials.

He told the BBC News website: "It sounds a little bit wacky, but this is a purpose-build device.

"We are confident in our results and it looks like a very good method for improving symptoms and quality of life while reducing harmful treatments.

"It should be more widely used now."

Dr Chris Del Mar and Tammy Hoffman from the University in Queensland, Australia, wrote in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, where the results were published, the trial "effectively addresses the lack of medical treatments for glue ear".

Dr Ralph Holme, the head of biomedical research at charity Action on Hearing Loss, said the results were "encouraging".

But said the lack of really effective treatments "highlight that further investment into research for more effective treatments is vital for the hundreds of thousands of children affected by glue ear each year".

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