January 1, 2006 Ear infections are a common condition in children, reducing their hearing and often requiring surgery. A simple new device solves the problem for 85 percent of the patients. It unblocks the middle ear by sending air in through the Eustachian tubes.
BROOKLYN, N.Y.--Middle ear fluid is one of the most common problems for children. The solution is often surgery, but now a new, low-tech device is keeping many kids out of the operating room.
Alison Riordan is an active 8-year old, but only a short time ago she struggled at everything. "I used to not be able hear very well, and I had to ask my neighbors in school to repeat it for me."
Carolyn, Alison's mother, says, "My daughter was losing out on so much. She would come out of school so unhappy."
At age 4, Alison was put on medication for her middle ear fluid. After that, she had surgery to put tubes in her ears. They, however, fell out and she was back to square one. Then the EarPopper was introduced. The device restored her hearing. To use the EarPopper, Alison takes a puff of air, swallows and her ears pop, just like on an airplane.
Daniel Arick, an otolaryngologist at New York Eye and Ear Infirmary in Brooklyn and co-inventor of EarPopper says, "The EarPopper sends air up the Eustachian tube into the middle ear where the fluid is and repeated ventilation of the ear, we found, resolves the fluid problem and the hearing is restored to normal."
"If I close my nose and swallow -- I wish everyone would do that -- you feel popping," says Shlomo Silman, a hearing scientist at Brooklyn College in N.Y. and co-inventor of EarPopper. That popping means air is flowing from the nose to the middle ear, but Dr. Silman says that doesn't happen naturally in children with undeveloped Eustachian tubes.
Dr. Arick says, "This is significant in the sense that you are not using antibiotics."
Alison feels good as new. She is not alone; the EarPopper worked for 85 percent of the children who tried it.
The EarPopper costs about $300 and is available by prescription only. For more information, you can visit www.earpopper.com.
BACKGROUND: Middle ear fluid is one of the most common ailments, affecting children in particular, resulting in more than 30 million doctor visits annually. A new prescription-only device allows kids to safely "pop" their ears at home to drain them without the need for costly doctor's visits, expensive surgery or antibiotics.
ABOUT THE EAR: There are three main parts to the human ear: outer, middle and inner ear. The outer ear is the part you can see and opens into the ear canal leading to the middle ear. The middle ear is a closed, air-filled chamber, separated from the outer ear by the ear drum, and ventilated by the Eustachian tube. Sometimes the pressure in the middle ear becomes higher or lower than that in the outer ear, causing hearing loss, severe pain, and the accumulation of fluid in the middle ear. The inner ear contains the hearing nerve that leads to the brain. It detects sound vibrations and turns them into electrical nerve impulses, which the brain then interprets as sound.
THE PROBLEM: Chronic middle ear fluid is a condition known as otitis media with effusion (OME).When this condition becomes persistent, and antibiotics aren't effective, it is often treated with surgical insertion of ear ventilation tubes. More than 700,000 children undergo this procedure each year. But the tubes often fall out within four to seven months, and the patients have a recurrence of the condition.
HOW IT WORKS: The Ear-Popper is a handheld, battery-powered device that delivers a constant, controlled stream of air pressure and flow into the nasal cavity, diverting air up the Eustachian tube when the patient swallows. This "pops" the ear so the fluid can drain, unblocking the ear and restoring hearing. The "popping" is nature's way of reliving pressure imbalance in the middle ear, and is caused by the opening of the Eustachian tube. In a four-year study, 74 percent of children diagnosed with OME-related hearing loss recovered their hearing after 7 weeks of using the Ear-Popper, with another 11 percent recovering fully within 11 weeks. The device will be manufactured and marketed by Micromedics Inc.