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Friday, 5 March, 1999, 18:15 GMT
Ungluing bunged-up ears
Blowing a balloon up with your nose could help unbung ears
A common childhood ear complaint which can cause temporary deafness could be cured simply by blowing up a balloon or chewing gum, according to a BBC programme.

Glue ear affects most children, but the majority recover from it without the need for specialist help.

But for some it can last longer and, if not caught early, may affect speech and language development.

The condition is caused by an infection in the middle ear which makes the lining secrete fluid.

If drainage tubes are blocked, the fluid becomes thick and glue-like.

This can cause deafness. Usually it clears up fairly quickly, but some children need specialist help.

Grommets

Dr Glennys Scadding of the Royal National Throat Nose and Ear Hospital in London says referrals to specialists are often due to GPs failing to treat the condition properly.

"The treatment they give is often not ideal as they tend to like oral decongestants which are not very effective," she said.

Glue ear is caused by an infection which causes a build-up of fluid
The traditional specialist treatment - and the number one operation done by ear, nose and throat specialists - is to insert tiny tubes or grommets into the ear drum to let air into the middle ear and drain the fluid.

They normally fall out of the drum after three to 12 months.

However, in 20-30% of cases there is discharge through the grommet.

In 5% of people who suffer discharge the condition is chronic.

After surgery, most children recover their hearing fully, but for some the fluid returns and they need further treatment.

According to the BBC2 programme Trust me I'm a Doctor, doctors are developing new ways to treat glue ear.

They include laser surgery. Mr David Mitchell, an ear, nose and throat surgeon, is trying out the surgery on adults as they can give him a more accurate description of how well it has worked.

The operation can be done using local anaesthetic. The laster burns a hole in the ear drum and heat seals the edges of the hole.

This keeps the hole open long enough for the glue to come out.

Laser surgery

In the US, trials using laser surgery have found that it works in the short-term, but Mr Mitchell wants to conduct his own trials.

British doctors believe the best thing would be to avoid surgery altogether.

US trials show laser surgery can be used to treat glue ear
Specialists at the Royal National Throat Nose and Ear Hospital say they have managed to halve the number of children who are operated on.

They have done so by trying to find out what causes glue ear and how to prevent it happening.

For example, they screen people with glue ear for allergies, such as asthma.

They think that if they treat that, they can stop glue ear from forming.

They are also trying less conventional approaches.

One involves blowing a balloon up with the nose and then letting the air blow back in.

Chewing a special chewing gum, made from a sugar substitute called Xylitol, has also brought some success.

The gum is extracted from the silver birch tree and is said to have anti-bacterial properties.

Dr Scadding says it has been shown to reduce ear infections by 30%.

Trust Me I'm a Doctor is on Fridays on BBC2 at 8pm GMT.

See also:

08 Oct 98 | Health
Suffering in silence
18 Feb 99 | Health
Deaf 'let down by GPs'
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