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Glue ear

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One of the most common childhood illnesses, glue ear occurs when the middle ear becomes filled with sticky fluid – and we’re sure you’ll agree how unpleasant that sounds.

Glue ear can also affect adults and, if left untreated, have long-term effects on overall hearing health. Recognising glue ear signs early is important for successful treatment of the condition.

Boots Hearingcare takes a look at some of the finer points relating to glue ear, including symptoms and treatment options…

Symptoms of glue ear

Ailments affecting your ears can be frightening as you can’t really see what’s going on in there. But there are key glue ear symptoms you should pay attention to, and some of them can be difficult for a child to describe – meaning you’ll need to be extra savvy when it comes to their hearing health.

The most common symptoms of glue ear include:

For children with glue ear, signs to keep an eye on include:

  • Them mishearing you (or just not hearing you at all)
  • Sitting closer to or drastically turning up the volume on the TV
  • Difficulty hearing when it’s noisy
  • Concentration problems
  • Being unable to interact well with other children
  • Lack of sleep due to pain in the ear
  • Issues with behaviour
  • Slower speech development
  • Affected balance

If you suspect your child has glue ear, contact your GP immediately and have them take a closer look at their ears.

Glue ear treatment

A lot of the time glue ear goes away on its own after 3 months, but if you are still having a persistent problem with your hearing then it’s important to seek out appropriate medical care.

Treatments for glue ear include:

  • Grommets – small tubes inserted into the eardrum to drain fluid (this will involve surgery)
  • An adenoidectomy – the adenoids are removed (often in conjunction with grommet insertion) to improve overall hearing health and reduce the likelihood of glue ear ever recurring again
  • Hearing aids – used instead of surgery to help manage deafness brought on by the condition

Remember, glue ear cannot be treated with over-the-counter or prescription medication. If you still are uncertain or think you have it, go to a qualified medical professional for confirmation and diagnosis.

Glue ear in children

Children with glue ear can struggle with their symptoms - but there are measures you can take as a parent to make life easier. These include:

  • Speaking slowly and clearly while always physically face-to-face
  • Reducing levels of background noise in and around the home
  • Informing teachers and other school staff about their condition (this will help reduce confusion and anxiety, as well as allowing the adults time to adapt how they communicate with your child)

If you do happen to notice any of the warning signs mentioned further above, take your child for a check-up at the doctor.

Glue ear in newborn babies

If you have a baby or a child under 5, it’s important that you know they are susceptible to glue ear. This is because their Eustachian tube is small and still developing, meaning that fluid cannot yet properly drain from the middle ear.

Sometimes, an excess of mucus is the root cause of glue ear in newborn babies or young infants, most likely attributable to ear infections and/or milk intolerance.

Colds can also be a precursor to glue ear. If your baby has recently had one, look out for signs that their ears are hurting or they’re not hearing as well as usual.

Frequently asked questions

What is the cause of glue ear?

Most of the time, glue ear happens as a result of issues with the Eustachian tube, allowing fluid to build up in the middle ear. Other causes of glue ear include ear infection or excess mucus due to a cold or the flu.

How is glue ear diagnosed?

After reviewing your medical history and an examination, your specialist will discuss with you the best treatment options for your case and answer any questions you may have. Glue ear tests are usually painless and conducted with the utmost care and diligence.

Can glue ear cause permanent hearing loss?

Glue ear can cause temporary deafness. It is highly unlikely that any permanent hearing loss will be due to glue ear alone. Nevertheless, it’s always best to get symptoms treated as early as possible, especially in young children.