Glue Ear in Children
If your child has glue ear, it means there is fluid in the space behind the ear drum. The main symptom of glue ear is hearing difficulty. Hearing loss for prolonged periods of time during the early years may affect speech and language development in children, which may require therapy to correct later in life.
Key points to remember about glue ear:
- With glue ear there is fluid in the space behind the eardrum (middle ear)
- Glue ear can affect one or both ears
- The main symptom of glue ear is hearing difficulty
- Hearing loss for prolonged periods of time during the early years may affect speech and language development
- Speak to Dr. Ebrahim if you are concerned that your child may have glue ear
Normal hearing relies on the space behind the eardrum (middle ear) being full of air. When this air is replaced by fluid, it is harder for the eardrum to vibrate and carry the noise vibrations to the inner ear. This makes it harder for your child to hear. If both ears have fluid, your child's hearing can be significantly reduced.
Glue ear occurs when the middle ear is filled with fluid. The fluid can be thick and sticky, and can affect one or both ears. It often follows an ear infection, but can also occur on its own.
Whether or not an ear infection has been treated with antibiotics, the fluid in the space behind the eardrum may stay around for weeks. When there is fluid in the space behind the eardrum for more than a couple of weeks, it's called OME (otitis media with effusion) or secretory otitis media. These are the medical names for glue ear.
The extent of hearing loss in children with glue ear can vary but the average hearing loss is similar to trying to hear with earplugs in place. Sounds are muffled.
Young children can't express this hearing loss and often parents mistakenly feel that their child is ignoring them.
Signs to watch for include your child:
- asking for things to be repeated
- mishearing things
- wanting the television up louder
Reduced hearing may cause behaviour problems such as a lack of concentration or attention. Children may feel irritable if they keep missing out on what others are saying. Problems with speech and language development could also be a sign of glue ear.
Although the fluid doesn't usually cause pain, sleep disturbance is often reported by parents.
The best treatment for glue ear is time. In most children, episodes of glue ear get better without active treatment. For this reason, your family doctor may simply recommend regular appointments for up to 3 months so they can check your child's ears.
If your child has fluid in the space behind the eardrum for more than 3 months, treatment options include:
This may be an option if hearing and development are normal. As children grow older they are less likely to have glue ear because their Eustachian tubes get bigger and work better. The Eustachian tubes connect middle ear of each ear to the back of the nose.
Regular reviews by a health professional are necessary during this period.
Grommets (tympanostomy or ventilation tubes)
Grommets are tiny tubes that can be inserted into the eardrums to treat conditions that affect the middle ear, such as recurrent middle ear infections and glue ear. Glue ear, also known as otitis media with effusion, is a persistent build-up of fluid in the middle ear that can cause hearing problems.