Cyclists’ hearing tool could help children with common ear condition

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Children with life-changing ear conditions can avoid surgery by using an innovative new kit available for use at home.

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Researchers testing hearing kits commonly marketed to cyclists found that it helped children with hearing problems caused by glue ear.

Gum ear, known as adhesive otitis, occurs when the middle part of your ear fills with fluid which can lead to temporary hearing loss.


The condition is most common in children under the age of eight, but in many cases it gets better on its own. However, some children need to be fitted with a grommet, a surgically implanted device that drains fluid and keeps the eardrum open.

Bone conduction hearing aids are one of the most successful alternatives to glue ears because they allow sound to be conducted through the skull to the cochlea (inner ear) and do not require surgical implantation.

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However, they are expensive, with some assistance costing up to £3,000.

Inexpensive “bone conduction headphones” were tested by researchers to assess whether they could help children with glue ear. The earphones are based on a £100 kit sold to cyclists that enable sound from their mobile phone to be directed directly into the cochlea, while the sound from traffic is still accessible by the normal way of hearing through the ear canals.

The study, published in BMJ Innovation, found that the kit – which includes a headset, a microphone and a Link app – can be successfully used by families to monitor their child’s hearing at home.

Some 26 parents with children aged three to 11 years took part in the study, with progress mapping out over three months.

According to the results, parents of 19 children reported that their child had “poor” or “very poor” hearing before using the kit.

No parents reported this when using the kit, with 24 reporting it as “normal” or only “slightly below normal.”

Twenty-three parents reported that their child “often” or “always” had hearing difficulties in a group before using the kit, while 22 out of 26 said that their child probably had hearing loss when using the kit. There is no problem of hearing alone or in a group.

As of the end of 2020, none of the children had inserted the grommet. Three families said they would continue to use the kit instead of using the grommet.

Researchers from Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said: “The innovative use of bone conduction headphones, a microphone and the Hear Glue Ear app sent to patients via post is a novel, new and effective approach to the management of glue ear, And this results in hearing loss, especially when families have reduced access to audiology or ear nose and throat (ENT) services, such as during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

He said parents’ comments showed that children benefited from the kit both at home and at school, and in some cases there were improvements in “pronunciation, behavior and hearing concerns.”

Researchers are calling for a larger study to assess the kit’s effectiveness.


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