For children with a common middle-ear problem, a new study reports that a simple treatment with a nasal balloon may diminish issues of hearing loss and avoid the unnecessary use of antibiotics, according to a study published in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).

Common to young children is their developing otitis media with effusion, aka “glue ear.” This condition occurs when the middle ear fills with thick fluid that may affect the development in hearing. Currently, no symptoms manifest themselves, so parents most often take their children with hearing difficulties to see a doctor. In 2004 in the US, 2.2 million were diagnosed with otitis media with effusion, costing an estimated $4 billion.

Some kids are much more prone to glue ear because the tube that connects the ear to the back of the nose gets clogged from a sinus infection, allergy or even pollution-induced inflammation.

“Unfortunately, all available medical treatments for otitis media with effusion such as antibiotics, antihistamines, decongestants and intranasal steroids are ineffective and have unwanted effects, and therefore cannot be recommended,” writes Dr. Ian Williamson, Primary Care and Population Sciences, University of Southampton, Southampton, United Kingdom, with coauthors.

In the study published in the CMAJ, researchers from the United Kingdom surveyed a randomized control trial to determine if auto-inflation with a nasal balloon could be used on a large scale in order to see if children could inflate a balloon in each nostril within a primary care setting. The results were surprising in the effectiveness of such a procedure, although shown only in small trials.

“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,” write the authors. “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 3-month watch-and-wait period.”

The nasal balloon has been around for decades, known as a home remedy. This treatment is similar to popping your nose when your ears get clogged on airplanes.

The researchers suggest that this treatment should be used more widely in children over age 4 to manage otitis media with effusion and help treat the associated hearing loss.

What’s important about this DIY therapy for autoinflation is that it’s a nondrug intervention, and that it’s underrepresented in research and clinical practice. If you’re child suffers from otitis media, ask you doctor about this simple procedure that has been around for decades.

While there are barriers to using nondrug therapies, in the case of autoinflation, doctors need to know about other effective techniques; how they are done and how to instruct patients and families in how to use it.