Perforated ear drums adds complications
Here, Fiona tells her story.
"Sarah, four, has had intermittent ear infections, and five perforated ear drums since she was a baby. In July 2003, when Sarah was three and a half, we noticed she had a consistent hearing loss.
"We really noticed Sarah was mumbling and losing confidence in her speech. It was harder to communicate with her overall and this affected her behaviour. She also often became frustrated.
"We saw a GP in September, who referred us to an ENT specialist. When we saw him in December, he tested Sarah’s hearing and recommended a hearing aid.
"Sarah saw a consultant and received a sparkly pink hearing aid in February this year. She was also put on the waiting list for an adenoidectomy, which she had in May.
"As soon as Sarah got her hearing aid, her communication improved immensely; her speech became confident again and her behaviour settled. Following the adenoidectomy, the glue ear seemed to be clearing up after about a month. A hearing test in August showed a marked improvement in her hearing and she no longer wears her hearing aid. She will have a six-month check-up in February to monitor scar tissue on the ear drum, caused by the recurrent perforations. It is hoped that her hearing will improve even more.
"One problem with the 'wait and see' approach to glue ear is that parents often wait a while before seeing a GP, so there is too much waiting overall before any action is taken, adding to the time the child suffers from glue ear. GPs need to take into account the fact that parents will often have already waited to see if the glue ear clears up on its own, before taking the step of visiting the family doctor.
"On the flip side, the standard of care we received from our ENT department was very high, and the advice we received from Deafness Research UK (via internet and posted factsheets) was very helpful, especially when, as a parent, you are desperate for information.
"I urge parents to visit their GP as soon as you are aware there is a problem. The sooner glue ear is dealt with the better."
Deafness Research UK glue ear researcher Mark Haggard comments: "We hear of many cases similar to Sarah's. In the 1980s, too many grommet operations may have been performed, in part because it was not possible to determine which children needed them most. In reaction, more of a 'watchful waiting' approach was adopted, but we are now seeing that a lot of the waiting has not been watchful enough, or is not done in the right way. Some of our research, supported by Deafness Research UK, has enabled us to show that GPs are much less certain about how and when to refer for ear and hearing problems than they are about noses and throats. It's a soluble problem. We just need new research data on when referral to an ENT specialist is appropriate into training material and guidelines for GPs, and information into a range of places where parents can access it easily."
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