September 1, 2015

Glue ear: Are antibiotics and grommets the only option?

Many children will have ear infections, which are painful but generally not serious and get better 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 ear drum. 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 6 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 3 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 3 months.
Please ask us in the pharmacy if you would like more information.