What is glue ear?
Glue ear is when the liquid inside your middle ear gets trapped and becomes thick like glue. The medical term for glue ear is otitis media with effusion (OME).
It’s common in young children and can last for weeks or months, and can affect hearing, speech, learning and behaviour.
OME is the most common cause of hearing impairment in childhood, where it usually follows an episode of acute otitis media (AOM).
What causes glue ear?
Glue ear is caused by the blockage of your Eustachian tube. When fluid is trapped inside this tube it slowly gets thicker over a number of days.
Glue ear commonly develops after repeated middle ear infections. Children living with smokers are more likely to get it than those who don’t. Using a dummy for long periods can also make things worse.
Other causes may include:
- swollen or infected adenoid glands
- a family history of glue ear
- bottle feeding
- allergies, and
Symptoms of glue ear
The main symptom is often mild to moderate hearing loss. Glue ear may cause pain, but many children have no immediately alarming symptoms at all. Therefore it’s a good idea to get your child’s ears checked at least once per year between the ages of 6 months and 3 years.
Other symptoms may include:
- balance issues
- trouble sleeping
- pressure or pain in the ear, and
Hearing loss for prolonged periods of time during the early years may affect speech and language development. If you notice any of these symptoms, please visit your Ear Nurse or GP.
What to look out for as a parent or carer
Some children can experience developmental, psychological and behavioural effects as a result of the impaired hearing caused by glue ear. Children may have learning difficulties if they cannot properly hear their teacher or class mates. They may also become frustrated, quiet and withdrawn because they have trouble following what is happening around them.
If a child becomes less responsive when being spoken to and they don’t have direct eye contact with a parent or teacher, this is possibly a sign of glue ear. In the case of smaller children and babies, they may become less responsive to sounds.