'Glue ear' drugs trial at Cardiff University
A new treatment for 'glue ear' - the most common cause of hearing problems in children - is being trialled by researchers at Cardiff University.
About 25,000 children a year need operations to treat the condition.
Doctors want to see if oral steroids used to treat childhood asthma can cut the need for grommet surgery.
Researchers aim to recruit 380 youngsters from six hospital sites for a three-year £1.3m study.
'Glue ear' is caused by a build up of fluid inside the middle ear.
Most children will have had an an ear infection by the age of five.
Case study: Sarah Jones, Cardiff
"My daughter was diagnosed with glue ear when she was seven months old and this resulted in mild hearing loss through her early years.
"This delayed her speech and language development and greatly affected her socially. I was forever apologising for her shyness and having to 'translate" what little she did say because people couldn't understand her."
"She is five years old now and thankfully, with time, speech and language therapy and understanding teaching staff, she is coming through the other side of it and is such a little chatterbox.
"We've not had to consider grommet surgery but I know that I would most definitely prefer to have the choice of a non-invasive treatment."
Inflammation of the ear, known as otitis media, is common in youngsters and while the symptoms in most cases disappear by themselves after a while, they do not always do so and that can cause problems with a child's speech and learning.
Children whose hearing is regularly affected may suffer developmental problems.
Prof Chris Butler, institute director at Cardiff University's Cochrane Institute of Primary Care and Public Health, is leading the study.
If the new treatment works, he said it could reduce number children needing hearing aids or surgery and save the NHS a lot of money.
"'Glue ear' is an important cause of deafness and the most common reason for children to have an operation in the UK.
"If oral steroids, which are commonly used as a treatment for asthma in children, prove to be effective, we will be able to offer parents a new treatment choice to improve their child's quality of life and that may avert the need for an operation.
"Such an approach is also likely to result in significant savings for the NHS."
In persistent cases of glue ear, an operation is often needed to drain the ear and insert tiny drainage tubes called grommets.