I read an intriguing study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal about children who have persistent middle ear fluid (otitis media with effusion). The problem is fairly common and is often a reason that children will undergo a day surgical procedure to insert tympanostomy tubes (ear tubes). In fact, my 11-month-old granddaughter just had tubes placed.
The treatment for middle ear fluid is often to just “watch and wait” and in many cases the fluid will resorb on its own and the problem is solved. But for persistent fluid surgery was often recommended.
For older children I often see if they could learn the “valsalva maneuver,” which would increase the pressure in the nasopharynx and help open the eustachian tube. This is the same maneuver you use to “pop” your ears after an airplane flight.
The only problem is that some children don’t seem to be able to understand how to do this, and there isn’t a way to really let them know how it feels when performed correctly.
In the study, 300 children, aged 4 to 11, who’d had recent ear symptoms and persistent fluid in one of both ears were randomized to “usual care” or were taught to use a nasal balloon. The nasal balloon with auto inflation is a device which is inserted into one nostril while occluding the opposite nostril and the child blows up the balloon through their nose.
By doing this, they increase the pressure in their nasopharynx, open up the eustachian tubes and clear the fluid. The child can see that they are doing the maneuver properly as the balloon blows up. It is both painless and fun!
In the study, young participants used the nasal balloon three times a day for up to three months and they were more likely to “achieve normal middle ear pressure” than the children who did not use the auto inflation balloon.
This is certainly low cost and can be taught in the pediatrician’s office with minimal time and effort for both parent and child. Who wouldn’t want to try this rather than have a surgical procedure?
I’m now going to look into where to purchase this product (wish I had thought this up) and try this on some of my own patients. I am sure there are plenty of kids that would love to blow up a balloon with their nose … perfect for a show and tell demonstration as well!
(Dr. Sue Hubbard is an award-winning pediatrician, medical editor and media host. “The Kid’s Doctor” TV feature can be seen on more than 90 stations across the U.S. Submit questions at http://www.kidsdr.com. The Kid’s Doctor e-book, “Tattoos to Texting: Parenting Today’s Teen,” is now available from Amazon and other e-book vendors.)
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Erin O’Donnell is a freelance health and science writer, parent, and graduate of Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. Walks by Lake Michigan make her happy.