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A randomized study of the surgical management of children with persistent otitis media with effusion associated with a hearing impairment

  • J. H. Dempster (a1), G. G. Browning (a1) and S. G. Gatehouse (a2)


The object of this study was to compare the effect on the hearing of the insertion of a grommet, with or without adenoidectomy, against a non–surgically managed control ear in children with persistent hearing impairment due to otitis media with effusion.

Seventy–eight children (44 boys, 34 girls, mean age 5.8 years) with documented bilateral otitis media with effusion associated with a bilateral hearing impairment (pure tone average air conduction thresholds over 0.5, 1 and 2 kHz of ≥25 dB HL) over a three month period were admitted to a randomized, controlled trial. Each child was randomized to have or not to have an adenoidectomy. The ears in each child were then randomly allocated to have a grommet (tympanostomy tube) inserted. The children's hearing status was reviewed six and 12 months post–operatively. During follow–up, should a child redevelop a persistent bilateral hearing impairment (as defined above) for three months they were managed with a hearing aid. Thus no child had repeat insertion of a grommet.

Surgery of each type had an effect on the hearing and the presence of otitis media with effusion at six months post–operatively but not at 12 months when it was no different from natural resolution.

If resolution of the otitis media with effusion is the outcome measure, then adenoidectomy alone is significantly better than no surgery but only in boys rather than in girls. Even in boys it only resolves about 60 per cent of effusions. However, when combined with a grommet (one insertion) adenoidectomy gives no greater resolution (89 per cent compared with 86 per cent).

If improvement in hearing is the outcome measure, the overall results are similar. Adenoidectomy alone has an effect but if a grommet is inserted, adenoidectomy in addition does not improve the overall effect. However, these findings are not the case when analysed regarding the sex of the subject mainly because of the higher natural resolution rate in girls. In them, at six months surgery of any type or combination has no effect whereas in boys there is an additive effect of adenoidectomy on grommet insertion. Hopefully further studies can be conducted in larger numbers to investigate the differing effect in boys and girls suggested in this study.


Corresponding author

Proffessor G. G. Browning, Department of Otolaryngology, Royal Infirmary, Castle Street, Glasgow G4 0NB.


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The Journal of Laryngology & Otology
  • ISSN: 0022-2151
  • EISSN: 1748-5460
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-laryngology-and-otology
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