Hear Glue Ear is an App and hearing solution which aims to positively change the development, learning and prospects of children with hearing loss.
- App and headset aim to reduce health inequalities by providing an affordable hearing solution for children affected by temporary hearing loss.
- Hear Glue Ear app has been quality-assured and highly commended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).
- Hear Glue Ear has won multiple awards including the ‘Children’s app of the year’ UK App Awards, 2019.
Dr Tamsin Holland Brown is a Paediatrician with over 20 years of experience in the field of childhood hearing loss. She is a cohort 4 clinical entrepreneur and Founder of Hear Glue Ear.
Founded in 2019, Hear Glue Ear is an affordable medical device and app solution which helps families to manage their child’s glue ear at home. Glue ear is caused by a build-up of fluid and mucous in the middle ear, causing varying levels of hearing impairment for varying amounts of time and affects 1 out of 10 children in the UK or Europe and up to 7 of 10 children in some other countries.
1 in 10 children under 5 years of age have middle ear hearing loss and, in some countries, this increased as high as 7/8 in 10*.
After training at St George’s Medical School, London and progressing to specialise in Paediatrics at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, Dr Holland Brown became a community Paediatrician in Cambridge. Her role was to manage the children’s hearing loss service at a time when they had just introduced screening at birth. The screening allowed for hearing loss to be identified earlier, and the service was very successful in supporting children with deafness, behind the ear hearing aids and cochlear implants.
Dr Holland Brown’s own daughter developed Glue ear and had to wait over a year for treatment, where she became increasingly concerned on how this condition would impact a child’s development during this crucial time in their lives. Working within the community service, she observed that unaddressed Glue Ear can lead to delays in communication, cognitive development, and social skills, which can have a significant impact on a child’s prospects, including school readiness and employment opportunities.
“We wouldn’t send kids to school without glasses but that’s what we’re doing sending kids to school when they can’t hear properly.”Dr Tamsin Holland Brown
Understanding the need for earlier intervention and support to assist this population, Dr Holland Brown explored what support these children had. Current UK practices were:
- Watchful waiting- Waiting for self-resolution.
- Grommet operations- Grommet operations can take place 1 to 2 years after the child first reports or has a diagnosis of hearing loss.
- Conventional behind-the-ear hearing aids- Which often do not work well for children with Glue Ear as their hearing fluctuates.
Unsatisfied by the current solutions, Dr Holland Brown investigated the use of medical hearing devices using bone conduction technology of sound waves. These headsets decode sound waves and convert them into vibrations that can be received directly by the Cochlea, so the eardrum and middle ear which is affected by glue ear is never involved. These devices could support children whilst they are waiting for their condition to self-resolve or their Grommet operations, however at £3000 per device this option was too expensive and led her to explore if she could create an affordable headset herself. She visited an electronic store and identified that bone conductor transducers only cost £9.99, resulting in the development of Hear Glue Ear.
The Hear Glue Ear headsets are affordable, simple in design and can be paired by Bluetooth to a microphone or phone/ tablet, to enable a child to hear better. Dr Holland Brown conducted a 2-year research study to test the effectiveness of the headsets with an 100% success rate which demonstrated that paired with a remote microphone, this was a cheap alternative to hearing aids that can be used for children with glue ear*. The findings were published in the BMJ, International Journal of Audiology, Digital Health Journal 2020 and Trends in Hearing Journal 2019,
To accompany the headset the Hear Glue Ear app was developed and funded by the Cambridge Hearing Trust Charity for android and apple phones and tablets and was provided free to families to help children during the ‘watchful waiting period’. The app includes audiobooks, songs and listening games for children, and provides accurate, up-to-date glue ear information for parents and a hearing screen to monitor fluctuations in children’s hearing levels at home.
The app also allowed speech and language therapists to upload therapy sessions onto the platform, and there is access to a clinician’s portal to provide easily accessible insights on the child’s progress between appointments.
The app progressed to become a class 1 medical device, with a CE Mark and was reviewed by ORCHA, the world-leading health app evaluators, and was awarded a score of 82%.
After confirming the effectiveness of the headset and app for treating children with glue ear, Dr. Holland Brown faced questions about what would happen if children continued to wear the headsets after their hearing had improved. To address this concern, she conducted a follow-up study with children who had normal hearing. The results showed that the headsets helped children concentrate and provided a benefit.
Following a leading women’s Silicon Valley to UK (SV2UK) conference Dr Holland Brown secured the support of Raspberry pi to manufacture of the headset at an affordable price and allowing increased access to the device and app.
At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, Grommet operations were halted, and this led to many children with temporary hearing loss not having access to any treatment. Further issues such as masks prevented lip reading and social distancing made communicating even more challenging. The only support available for the families at this time was Hear Glue Ear, and demand for the app started to rise. Dr Holland Brown applied to conduct a research study to support the families on her waiting list in Cambridge. Once approved, she wrote to the families to ask if they would like to trial the headsets and app, with 80% of patients saying ‘yes’. She then sent the headsets with a microphone and handwritten instructions by post and followed up with the patients remotely. The study was successful and empowered parents to support their children at home. During this time, a portion of the children would recover from their Glue Ear naturally, and the individuals who still required an operation continued to be supported by the headset, so that they did not fall behind in school or early learning.
Up until 2020, the development of Hear Glue Ear focused on the UK and had been adopted mainly in the East of England. In 2021, Dr Holland Brown decided to explore how Hear Glue Ear could potentially support deprived populations around the world.
Over 5% of the world’s population – or 430 million people – require rehabilitation to address their disabling hearing loss*.
Dr Holland Brown found that Malawi, in East Africa, only had one ear, nose, and throat surgeon and roughly four audiologists to support their whole population of 19.89 million. Research showed that childhood hearing loss is high* in this area and one of the largest barriers families faced was that accessing hearing aids was challenging and if they could, the batteries were difficult to source and needed to be changed regularly, which was not affordable. Dr Holland Brown and the team at Cambridge Global Health Partnerships, hoped that Hear Glue Ear could help as the headsets were re-chargeable, with the potential to use solar power which would increase accessibility for the population as it would eliminate the use of expensive batteries.
She then took headsets over to a deaf school in Malawi in early 2023 and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. For instance, Samuel, a 14-year-old boy who had not heard for seven years, was able to hear again thanks to the headset. This breakthrough meant that the children could access education and earn a wage, which was crucial for feeding their families.
“We are very lucky in the UK that we are one of the countries that has innovation, and we should absolutely be sharing that knowledge with the people who need it across the world.”Dr Tamsin Holland Brown
“The NHS CEP is such a warm programme and its genuinely helped me to best manage the Hear Glue Ear project.”- Dr Tamsin Holland Brown
The NHS Clinical Entrepreneur Programme has given Dr Holland Brown the education and skills required to effectively navigate the innovation landscape. The network has provided her with a sounding board to effectively work through challenges and feel supported during tough times. The empowerment and personal development opportunities has supported Dr Holland Brown in becoming a strong leader who is now a World Health Organisation (WHO) task force advisor for the World Hearing Forum and trustee for the charity Glue Ear Together.
‘’The NHS Clinical Entrepreneur Programme is very important to me. Before I enrolled onto this programme in 2019, if I asked for help from an organisation or professional individual, they would have had an expectation of something in return. This caused a lot of barriers and led me to making a number of mistakes which could have been avoided. I had internalised a lot of my failures and felt that I wasn’t meant for business, but entering the programme opened me up to a community of others who had been through the same challenges and had also made mistakes, which they had grown from- It’s like a big self-help group. Meeting some of the best people in the NHS, with the biggest hearts, has inspired and empowered me to keep pushing forward.
The business guidance provided by the programme has been brilliant and I have had two amazing mentors, Liz Ashall-Payne (CEO at ORCHA) and Krishan Ramdoo (CEO and Founder at TymaHealth Technologies LTD) who have helped me to build my confidence, be a strong innovator, avoid pitfalls, and have been a crucial part of my journey.”Dr Tamsin Holland Brown
In 2022, Dr Holland Brown was successfully appointed as the Co-Clinical Lead of the NHS Clinical Entrepreneur Programme, and now supports the next generation of clinical entrepreneurs through their journey with her story, advice, and guidance.
“That felt so impactful – getting to a point where I had enough experience where I could see the system errors and how we could improve that for other people. I now share my journey and founder’s story with the newer cohorts, and I feel incredibly privileged to be able to do so”.Dr Tamsin Holland Brown
Looking to the future
Moving forward, Dr Holland Brown hopes to further extend the reach of Hear Glue Ear and is having conversations to support refugee foundations and hearing services in Nepal to ensure as many children as possible can get access to affordable hearing devices.
The team also visited Malawi again in November 2023, to explore how they can further support this population and share the headset with more children in need.
“I would encourage everyone to sign-up to communications from the World Hearing Forum and the Glue Ear Together charity, to find out more about how we can promote ear and hearing care worldwide, and feel free to download the Hear Glue Ear app!”Dr Tamsin Holland Brown
For more information, please click on the links below.
- Causes of glue ear | Information about glue ear (ndcs.org.uk)
- Children with hearing impairment in Malawi, a cohort study – PMC (nih.gov)
- Cambridge Independent Sept 19, 2018
- Watch the magical moment Samuel hears again thanks to Cambridge doctor’s hearing aid invention | ITV News Anglia
- Deafness and hearing loss (who.int)
- Using a Bone-Conduction Headset to Improve Speech Discrimination in Children With Otitis Media With Effusion – Tamsin Holland Brown, Marina Salorio-Corbetto, Roger Gray, Alexandra James Best, Josephine E. Marriage, 2019 (sagepub.com)
- Hearing Loss in Children – HealthyChildren.org
- Watch the magical moment Samuel hears again thanks to Cambridge doctor’s hearing aid invention | ITV News Anglia
TRANSFORMING HEALTHCARE THROUGH INNOVATION