What is glue ear?

Glue ear is a common condition in children under the age of five though occasionally it can continue into teenage years.  It is caused by fluid filling the middle ear space which causes a ‘conductive’ hearing loss – meaning sounds are not conducted through the small bones in the middle ear to the inner ear.  This has the effect of making quiet sounds difficult to hear particularly in background noise.

Normally the middle ear is an air filled space ventilated by the eustachian tube which opens into the back of the nose near the adenoids.  In children the tube is small and may lie at a different angle from the adult tube.  This may affect the way in which the tube works and sometimes colds and even exposure to smoke may also affect it.  If the adenoids are large they may block the tube and if there are any variations in the normal shape of the back of the throat, for example with a cleft palate, the tube may not work so well.  The fluid produced by the lining of the middle ear builds up and becomes very thick and sticky so muffling the hearing.

The symptoms

Hearing loss is the most obvious symptom and this can cause lots of other problems:  speech may be affected in the younger children, problems may arise at school and sometimes there may be behavioural problems.  Sometimes ear infections can be linked with glue ear.

How can it be treated?

Most children with glue ear have short episode that may follow a cold and so get better on their own. It may be possible to help clear the fluid a little quicker by blowing up special balloons through the nose (Otovent) to help ‘pop’ the ears.
It is important during these episodes to help your child to hear you better;  avoid any background noise and try to attract their attention first before speaking face to face.  Let their teachers know so that they can ensure your child sits close to them .
If the glue ear persist further treatment of it may be necessary to improve the hearing.  Usually this will be by inserting grommets into the ear drum  to ventilate the middle ear. Occasionally the adenoids may be removed if they are contributing to the problem. Sometimes hearing aids may be considered as a temporary measure.

Click to download information booklet Grommet Insertion


The North Hampshire ENT Partnership is a team of consultants specialising in a wide spectrum of diseases and disorders that affect the Ear, Nose & Throat (ENT) including snoring and sleep disorders, cosmetic and skin surgery.


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