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A simple procedure using a nasal balloon can help treat hearing loss

Using the nose to inflate a nasal balloon helps heal glue ear in children, researchers from the Universities of Southampton and Oxford have discovered.

Glue ear (otitis media with effusion) is a common middle-ear problem and affects about 200,000 children per year. There is a four in five chance a child will get an ear effusion in the first 10 years of their life.  Antibiotics, steroids, decongestants and antihistamines are all ineffective.

The act of increasing the pressure in the ear can clear away the build-up of sticky mucus that prevents tiny bones from passing soundwaves through the ear, reducing the impact of hearing loss.

320 children aged 4–11 were enrolled in an open randomised controlled trial in 43 general practices across the UK. Those with a recent history of ear symptoms and glue ear were given autoinflation (instructed to inflate a balloon through their nose) 3 times daily for 1–3 months.

Children receiving autoinflation were more likely than those in the control group to have normal middle-ear pressure at both one month (47.3 per cent and 35.6 per cent, respectively) and three months (49.6 per cent and 38.3 per cent, respectively) and have fewer days with symptoms.

Writing in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal), the authors suggest this treatment should be used more widely in children over the age of four to manage OME and help treat the associated hearing loss.

Dr Ian Williamson from the Department of Primary Care and Population Sciences at the University of Southampton, who led the research, commented:

“Autoinflation is a simple, low-cost procedure that can be taught to young children in a primary care setting with a reasonable expectation of compliance.

“We have found use of autoinflation in young, school-aged children with otitis media with effusion to be feasible, safe and effective in clearing effusions, and in improving important ear symptoms, concerns and related quality of life over a three-month watch-and-wait period.”

The study was carried out in partnership with researchers and statisticians in the Primary Care Clinical Trials Unit at Oxford University’s Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences.

The research was funded by the Health Technology Assessment programme of the National Institute for Health Research.

Paper reference

Altmetric scoreEffect of nasal balloon autoinflation in children with otitis media with effusion in primary care: an open randomized controlled trial.
Williamson I, Vennik J, Harnden A, Voysey M, Perera R, Kelly S, Yao G, Raftery J, Mant D, Little P.
CMAJ July 27 10.1503/cmaj.141608 


This research has been disseminated as an NIHR Signal - summaries of the most important, recent research evidence to aid clinicians and policy makers. Read more


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