What is glue ear?

Glue ear (or otitis media with effusion) is a condition that most commonly affects children, and occurs when thick fluid fills the middle ear. This can cause hearing problems and affect a child’s speech and learning development.  Glue ear affects adults less commonly, but can occur after colds, sinusitis or upper respiratory tract infections.


Why do children get glue ear?

Fluid produced by the lining of the middle ear normally drains via the Eustachian tube (tube that connects middle ear to the back of the nose and is responsible for equalizing pressure in the ear).

Children younger than 8 years of age are anatomically predisposed to developing glue ear and middle ear infections because:

  • They still have adenoids (which start to shrink and disappear from 8-12 years of age).
  • They are more prone to developing infections while the immune system matures.
  • They are exposed to more infections from other children at playschools or crèches.
  • The shape and function of the Eustachian tube gets better at draining middle ear fluid as children grow older.


How can it be treated?

Glue ear typically resolves itself without treatment. If the condition persists for longer than three months, or if it keeps reoccurring or if it affects speech development and school performance then it is necessary to see an ENT specialist. In this case, a hearing and middle ear pressure test is performed to confirm the diagnosis as well as the severity of glue ear. Based on this evaluation your doctor may recommend surgical insertion of grommets (small plastic ventilation tubes) and possibly removal of the adenoids.


Unilateral (affecting only one ear) glue ear in adults:

Symptoms of unilateral hearing loss and a blocked nose may be caused a tumour (abnormal growth) in the back of the nose blocking the Eustachian tube. Patients with these symptoms should seek urgent review by an ENT doctor.