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December 21, 2003

Easing the pain of glue ear

From: BBC News, UK - Dec 21, 2003

By Jane Elliott BBC News Online health staff

When Rachel Kavanagh was 11 she started suffering from appalling earache.

At first doctors could find nothing wrong, but her hearing started to deteriorate.

Eventually it became so bad that her school contacted her parents and suggested there might be a serious problem.

Her mother Karen said doctors then diagnosed Rachel with glue ear.


The condition is a common cause of temporary deafness among children, affecting 85% of under 10s.

It is caused by a build-up of fluid behind the ear drum.

Most children grow out of the condition, but some like Rachel need surgery.

Karen said that at first Rachel, from Southampton, had no obvious symptoms.

"Then we started noticing that the television was becoming very loud and that she had started shouting a lot.

"Then her classroom assistant said she had a problem with her hearing.

"The doctor said it looked like she had glue ear, which usually happens to children when they are a lot younger than Rachel.

"She had been in a lot of pain with earache, but she had not said anything.

"It was an awful time. It was coming up to important exams at school and she couldn't hear properly. So I had to tell the school so they could take that into account."


Surgeons quickly fitted Rachel with grommets designed to ease the pressure and release the fluid behind her ear drums.

Rachel has now had her grommets in her ears for about two years and has found that her problems have disappeared.

Now researchers at the University of Southampton have launched a study to evaluate and trial a new treatment to help other children with glue ear.

Dr Ian Williamson, of the primary medical care group, who is leading the four-year study, said the trial will look at how glue ear is linked to the adenoids.

The trial uses topical nasal steroid preparations designed to act on the adenoids and the Eustachian tubes, shrinking them down and preventing the swelling and inflammation that is thought to be associated with glue ear.

Dr Williamson said: "Glue ear is very difficult to diagnose and detect and treatments in primary care are largely ineffective or of uncertain value.

"This trial aims to reduce the severity and duration of the glue ear episodes enough to produce significant quality of life gains for affected children and their families."