A nose spray containing a naturally occurring probiotic or "good" bacteria may be an effective treatment for children with chronic secretory otitis media — a condition involving persistent drainage of fluid from the ear that usually results from ear infections.

In a study, the probiotic nose spray got rid of all or nearly all of the ear fluid present in a significant number of children with the problem, clinicians from Sweden report.

"The results are very promising, and in the future, bacterial treatment might reduce hearing problems, and postpone or even render surgery unnecessary in many cases," Dr. Susann Skovbjerg from the University of Gothenburg told Reuters Health.

Insertion of tubes to drain the fluid, she said, "might be avoided in children with long-standing secretory otitis media."

In a prior study, treatment with a nose spray containing the probiotic viridans streptococci was successful in cutting recurrences of acute otitis media and tonsillitis, Skovbjerg and colleagues note in a report in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.

In the current study, they tested the effects of a 10-day course of a probiotic nasal spray containing the good bacteria Streptococcus sanguinis or Lactobacillus rhamnosus before scheduled placement of drainage tubes in 60 children with persistent fluid in the middle ear for at least 2 months.

Seven of 19 children treated with the Streptococcus sanguinis-containing nose spray experienced "complete or significant" recovery of otitis media, compared with only 1 of 17 treated with a placebo spray, they report.

There was only a modest non-statistically significant beneficial effect seen in children using the Lactobacillus rhamnosus-containing nasal spray; complete or significant recovery occurred in only 3 of 18 patients.

"This study could not explain the mechanisms for the beneficial effect," Skovbjerg admitted. "In future studies we will further investigate why fluid remains for months in the middle ear of some children and the role of bacterial spray therapy in this condition.