Wireless kit a good alternative ‘glue ear’ treatment

A wireless kit with an app might be a cheap alternative to the usual treatment for glue ear and could avoid the need for surgery, developers report today.

A small study, published today in BMJ Innovations, says a Bone Conduction Kit, which comprises a wireless headset plus microphone, paired with the free Hear Glue Ear app, is effective.

Researchers from Cambridgeshire Community Services NHS Trust monitored the progress of 26 children, aged three to 11, in the UK who were diagnosed with glue ear and/or were scheduled for grommet insertion in their local area during the first wave of the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic, who were sent the kits and details of the app.

The children’s parents completed an Otitis Media Quality of life questionnaire within three weeks of first using the kit to assess the impact of ear problems on their children with and without the kit.

Researchers continued to monitor the children’s progress via remote virtual or phone consultations over the following three months.

In the three months before the kit was supplied, parents of 19 children said their child’s hearing had been poor or very poor.

When the children used the kit, 24 reported their child’s hearing as ‘normal’ or only ‘slightly below normal’.

23 parents reported that their child ‘often’ or ‘always’ had difficulty hearing in a group before they used the kit. When using the kit, 22 out of the 26 parents said their child rarely or never had problems hearing in a group.

Two thirds (17) used the app at home, 8% (two) on car journeys, and 26% (seven) did not use it at all. Fifteen (58%) of the children took the kit to school or nursery.

By the end of 2020, none of the children had had a grommet inserted and three families said they would continue to use the kit rather than their child have the procedure.

All families chose to keep the kit at the end of the study, even if their child’s hearing had improved. Most found remote management acceptable and thought their child had benefited.

The researchers acknowledge it was a short-term study with a small number of children and did not include a control group, but they say remote management of glue ear has advantages, including improving children’s hearing at an important stage of their development; reducing travel to clinics with small children; and enabling children to hear online learning more clearly.

“Innovative use of bone conduction headphones, a microphone and the Hear Glue Ear app, sent through the post to patients, is a novel, new and effective approach to the management of glue ear and its resulting hearing loss, especially when families have reduced access to audiology or Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) services, such as during the Covid-19 pandemic,” they write.

They say larger scale studies are needed to look at the cost effectiveness and clinical effectiveness at scale.

Holland Brown TM, Fitzgerald O’Connor I, Bewick J et al. Early stage innovation report: Bone conduction hearing kit for children with glue ear. BMJ Innovations 5 October 2021; doi 10.1136/bmjinnov-2021-000676


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