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What is Glue Ear?

Glue Ear is a condition of the middle ear which tends to become inflamed with fluid. Glue Ear is a common childhood condition. Glue Ear can also be referred to as otitis media with effusion.

The primary symptoms of Glue Ear are hearing loss that mostly feels as if you are putting your hands over your ears.

Signs and symptoms when your child is suffering from Glue Ear:

  • They become irritated because they are trying harder to hear;
  • Always increasing the volume of the radio or television;
  • Having a problem with interacting because they cannot hear properly;
  • Speaking softly or too loudly;
  • Mostly able to understand face-to-face conversation with some confusion;

What causes Glue Ear?

The middle ear is located directly behind the ear drum. Within the middle ear is three tiny small bones, which transmit sound vibrations from the eardrum into the inner ear. The accumulation of fluids allied with Glue Ear prevent these bones from moving freely, which then affects hearing as the sound waves are unable to pass from the tympanic membrane to the inner ear.

Glue Ear is commonly related to a problem with the tube that connects the middle ear to the back of the throat, called the Eustachian tube. The Eustachian tubes normal function is to help drain fluid from the middle ear.

Diagnosing Glue Ear

When diagnosing Glue Ear, an instrument called an otoscope is used. An otoscope is a small hand-held instrument that has a magnifying glass and a light source at the end of it. The device is used to study the inside of the ears and show signs that indicate fluid inside the ear or inflammation.

Signs of Glue Ear that may be picked up by the otoscope include:

  • An ear drum that has been pulled inwards.
  • Unusual color
  • Eardrum having a cloudy appearance
  • Fluids inside the ear

Complications of Glue Ear

  • Ear Infection - A common complication of Glue Ear is an acute middle ear infection. This forms when bacteria infects the fluid trapped within the middle ear.
  • Delayed speech and language - Children suffering from Glue Ear may be at a disadvantage in their development as it may slow their learning of speech and language. This is especially true if their loss of hearing is lengthened and happens before the age of three. In most cases, the delay is only temporary and children will catch up with their peers when their hearing becomes normal.
  • Thickening of the ear drum - Tympanosclerosis is a slight thickening of the eardrum tissue.  This is a common problem in kids who have had Glue Ear treated with grommets. The thickening of the eardrum is so small that symptoms are rarely visible.
  • Perforated ear drum - There is a small risk that matter or pus can form inside the middle ear; this may however only happen if an infection complicates Glue Ear. The pus may put pressure on the ear, and this may cause a rip in the eardrum, which could lead to extreme pain and a temporary loss of hearing.

The persistent perforated ear drum, which is an uncommon complication of Glue Ear, occurs in an estimated 1 in every 100 cases. A perforated ear drum may be treated with minor surgery, which is called myringoplasty, where tissue is used to seal the hole in the ear drum.


Treatment for Glue Ear is not usually sought within the first three months; this is because over half of all the cases get better within those three months. There is no medication that one can take to shorten the length of time that the symptoms last for.

Treatment is commonly required when your child is:

    • Having severe hearing loss
    • Hearing loss that is causing problems learning
    • Suffers from Down Syndrome

2 main treatments include:

    • Hearing Aids
    • Grommets

Hearing Aids, are often used in children who have Down syndrome, this is because surgery can have disastrous results and/or results could be incorrect.
A hearing aid is an electronic instrument, which consists of a microphone, loudspeaker, battery and an amplifier. Modern hearing aids are small and can be fitted inside the ears. The microphone picks up the vibrations and sounds that are usually made louder by the amplifier.

Grommets are small tubes, which are inserted into the child’s ear during the surgery. Grommets help drain out pus and fluids from the middle ear thereby helping to maintain air pressure within the middle ear.

Grommets are implanted when an operation called a grommet insertion takes place. This surgery is carried out under general anesthetic and takes around 15 minutes to complete. After surgery the child will hear the noises much louder than they used too, this is normal.

The grommet will keep the ear drum open for a few months. As the ear drum heals the grommet will slowly be pushed out the ear drum and will fall out after a while unconsciously - This is not painful at all. The grommet insertion is a safe and simple procedure, but as with all surgical procedures, there is always a risk that complications may occur.

Possible complications include

  • One can develop an ear infection
  • A small hole in the ear that may take longer than normal to close

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