Grommets (ventilation tubes) for hearing loss associated with otitis media with effusion in children.Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2005; (1):CD001801CD
Otitis media with effusion (OME), or 'glue ear', is very common in children, especially between the ages of one and three years with a prevalence of 10% to 30% and a cumulative incidence of 80% at the age of four years. OME is defined as middle ear effusion without signs or symptoms of an acute infection. OME may occur as a primary disorder or as a sequel to acute otitis media. The functional effect of OME is a conductive hearing level of about 25 to 30 dB associated with fluid in the middle ear. Both the high incidence and the high rate of spontaneous resolution suggest that the presence of OME is a natural phenomenon, its presence at some stage in childhood being a normal finding. Notwithstanding this, some children with OME may go on to develop chronic otitis media with structural changes (tympanic membrane retraction pockets, erosion of portions of the ossicular chain and cholesteatoma), language delays and behavioural problems. It remains uncertain whether or not any of these findings are direct consequences of OME. The most common medical treatment options include the use of decongestants, mucolytics, steroids, antihistamines and antibiotics. The effectiveness of these therapies has not been established. Surgical treatment options include grommet (ventilation or tympanostomy tube) insertion, adenoidectomy or both. Opinions regarding the risks and benefits of grommet insertion vary greatly. The management of OME therefore remains controversial.
To assess the effectiveness of grommet insertion compared with myringotomy or non-surgical treatment in children with OME. The outcomes studied were (i) hearing level, (ii) duration of middle ear effusion, (iii) well-being (quality of life) and (iv) prevention of developmental sequelae possibly attributable to the hearing loss (for example, impairment in impressive and expressive language development (measured using standardised tests), verbal intelligence, and behaviour).
We searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (The Cochrane Library Issue 1, 2003), MEDLINE (1966 to 2003), EMBASE (1973 to 2003) and reference lists of all identified studies. The date of the last systematic search was March 2003, and personal non-systematic searches have been performed up to August 2004.
Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) evaluating the effect of grommets on hearing, duration of effusion, development of language, cognition, behaviour or quality of life. Only studies using common types of grommets (mean function time of 6 to 12 months) were included.
DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS
Data from studies were extracted by two reviewers and checked by the other reviewers.
Children treated with grommets spent 32% less time (95% confidence interval (CI) 17% to 48%) with effusion during the first year of follow-up. Treatment with grommets improved hearing levels, especially during the first six months. In the randomised controlled trials that studied the effect of grommet insertion alone, the mean hearing levels improved by around 9 dB (95% CI 4 dB to 14 dB) after the first six months, and 6 dB (95% CI 3 dB to 9 dB) after 12 months. In the randomised controlled trials that studied the combined effect of grommets and adenoidectomy, the additional effect of the grommets on hearing levels was improvement by 3 to 4 dB (95% CI 2 dB to 5 dB) at six months and about 1 to 2 dB (95% CI 0 dB to 3 dB) at 12 months. Ears treated with grommets had an additional risk for tympanosclerosis of 0.33 (95% CI 0.21 to 0.45) one to five years later. In otherwise healthy children with long-standing OME and hearing loss, early insertion of grommets had no effect on language development or cognition. One randomised controlled trial in children with OME more than nine months, hearing loss and disruptions to speech, language, learning or behaviour showed a very marginal effect of grommets on comprehensive language.