Local News

New procedure at Duke treats chronic ear infections

Posted January 11

Most children with chronic ear aches and infections outgrow them by the age of 4. But some adults continue to have problems, and standard options only offer temporary relief.

A new procedure promises to treat the source of the pain permanently.

Shelly Kutchma, 47, is about to get a final fix for pain she's experienced in both ears her whole life.

“I'm excited about something that may keep my ear drums open for a longer period of time than a tube would stay,” Kutchama said.

She has persistent eustachian tube dysfunction.

Duke’s Dr. David Kaylie says the eustachian tube connects the sinuses with the middle ear. The tube collapses or swells, trapping fluids and leading to painful ear infections. It’s an anatomical condition people are born with.

“When you start to say ‘huh? huh? huh?’ too many times at work, you start to realize that something's changing in your ears,” he said.

Some people have difficulty equalizing pressure on airplanes and that goes along with eustachian tube dysfunction.

Duke is the first hospital in North Carolina approved to offer the Acclarent Aera procedure, which was approved by the FDA last September.

“We can thread a catheter into the opening of the eustachian tube in the back of the nose and that catheter has a small balloon that you blow up and hold it open - blown up for up to 2 minutes,” Kaylie said.

It dilates the eustachian tube, which remains open even after the device is removed. It's an outpatient procedure done under general anesthesia.

“The recovery time was very short, by the next day I was feeling OK. I didn't have any bleeding - or pain or soreness,” he said.

Most of all, the muffled hearing and sometimes excruciating ear pain is gone for good. Kaylie said most insurance helps cover the new procedure. It can save future costs of antibiotics for ear infections and for repeated procedures to relieve pressure in the ears.

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