RESEARCHERS at a Hampshire university say blowing into a balloon could help thousands of children suffering with a common hearing problem.

A new study led by a team from the University of Southampton has concluded that using a simple nasal balloon, called an Otovent, could reduce the impact of hearing loss in cases of otitis media with effusion (OME) - known as glue ear - and avoid the use of what they said were unnecessary and ineffective antibiotics.

They are now suggesting that this treatment be used more widely on those suffering to alleviate hearing loss.

In children with glue ear the middle ear fills with thick fluid which can affect hearing.

Approximately 200,000 children a year in the UK either attend GPs or are seen in the community for the condition and there is a four in five chance a child will get an ear effusion in the first 10 years of their life.

Researchers undertook a random controlled trial to see if autoinflation with a nasal balloon could be used on a large scale to benefit children.

Before the study this procedure had only been looked at in small trials in hospitals.

It works by the child blowing through each nostril into a nozzle to inflate the balloon - this sends air through a tube that leads to the middle ear which re-pressurises the middle ear and allows the fluid built up to drain away.

This latest trial involved children aged 4 to 11 years from 43 family practices in the UK who had recent histories of glue ear with fluid in one or both ears.

Children were randomly assigned to either a control group that received standard care or a group that received care alongside the balloon inflation procedure three times a day for one to three months.

Researchers found children using the nasal balloon were more likely than those that did not to have normal middle-ear pressure at both one month and three months and recover quicker.

“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,” said Dr Ian Williamson from Primary Care and Population Sciences at the University of Southampton, co-author of the report.

“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.”

He says all medical treatments like antibiotics, steroids and decongestants are ineffective and can have unwanted side effects.

The study has been published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.