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Doctors Finally Found a Treatment for Glue Ear: Balloons

Kids love balloons
July 30, 2015, 9:00am

Inside your ear there's a tube, and if you're a child, there's a good chance that that, like the rest of you, that tube is full of a disgusting fluid.

Glue Ear affects about 80 percent of children under 10. It's a condition where the middle ear and eustachian tube fills with a glue like liquid that makes it difficult to hear. The condition has remained untreatable with antibiotics, steroids and antihistamines, but new research points to an unlikely treatment: medicinal balloons.

Normally, the eustachian tube carries air from the nasopharynx to the middle ear, where small vibrating bones called ossicles transfer air pressure variations or sound waves from the eardrum into signals the cochlear nerve transmits to the brain to be decoded as sound. If the eustachian tube and middle ear fills with liquid, the vibrations of the ossicles are dampened, and hearing is muted.

In a study published this week in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, doctors Ian Williamson and Jane Vennik announce that the use of a special medicinal balloon can be used to regulate pressure inside the ear, allowing fluid to drain and restore hearing.

The special balloon is stretched either manually or through pre inflation (in the same way a regular balloon is prepared). The user then attaches a nozzle to the balloon that allows it to be placed against the nostril, and (unlike a regular balloon) inflated through the nose. In this video, Dr. Vennik explains that the heightened pressure in the nasopharynx opens the eustachian tube, which promotes fluid drainage.

The purpose-manufactured balloon, commercially named Otovent is currently available for $26.95 USD (that's ten balloons, the nose piece and a "convenient travel case") with refills costing $6 USD for five new balloons, and is being marketed to divers and air travellers in addition to sufferers of Glue Ear. It's unclear what benefit this special balloon has over your run-of-the-mill party balloon, nor is it clear whether this is either a marketing move made by Big Pharma or Big Balloon.