Glue Ear

Reviewed by Charge Audiologist
Ron Trounson

Table of Contents

What Is Glue Ear?

If you have noticed that your hearing has been a little muted lately, then you might be suffering from glue ear.

But what is glue ear, and how can it impact your hearing?

This condition can affect both adults and children and is more common than you might think, especially in kids.

Let’s look at some glue ear symptoms and what to do if you think you or your child might be suffering from it.

Glue ear is also known as sticky ear or otitis media with effusion. The name is given to a build-up of fluid in the middle ear, behind the eardrum. It is called “glue” or “sticky” because the fluid is a thick, glue-like fluid.

This sticky fluid prevents the eardrum from vibrating properly, which can cause hearing issues. This space behind the eardrum is ordinarily clear air, so having trapped fluid can cause the symptoms of glue ear.

It’s common in young children and can last for weeks or months, and affect hearing, speech, learning, and behaviour.

Glue ear is the most common cause of hearing impairment in childhood, where it usually follows an episode of ear infection such as acute otitis media (AOM).

Did you know that glue ear is the most common cause of hearing problems in children? Although it is more common in children, glue ears in adults can still occur, so it is essential to know what to be aware of.

Baby crying and pulling on ears which is a common reaction to glue ear
Baby crying and pulling on ears which is a common reaction to glue ear.

Glue Ear Symptoms

The main symptom is often mild to moderate hearing loss. Glue ear may cause pain, but many children have no immediately concerning 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 three years.

Here is what to look out for if you suspect your child might be suffering from glue ear.

  • Glue ear and hearing loss are connected so that you might notice hearing issues.
  • Your child is talking louder than usual.
  • Your child has trouble hearing others speaking at an average volume.
  • There might be a ringing or buzzing sound in the ear.
  • Pressure or discomfort in the ear.
  • Change of behaviour in your child (you might think that they are ignoring you).
  • Your child is becoming increasingly frustrated.
  • Your child is having issues with speech or language.
  • They’re tired more than usual.
  • They have balance issues or are more clumsy than usual.
  • Your child has trouble falling asleep or has disrupted sleep.

What to Look Out for as a Parent or Carer​

Some children can experience developmental, psychological and behavioural effects due to the impaired hearing caused by glue ear.

Children may have learning difficulties if they cannot properly hear their teacher or classmates. 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 spoken to and doesn’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.

5 Glue Ear Treatments

Depending on your or your child’s symptoms, you might want to see a general practitioner, audiologist or an ear nurse.

Glue ear is diagnosed with a simple ear exam. A magnified scope with a light attached examines inside the ear. This scope will identify any fluid build-up in the middle ear and if an infection is present.

Your healthcare professional will recommend waiting to see if the condition clears up on its own, or they might suggest treatment.

Although glue ear can clear up on its own, sometimes treatment is needed to prevent permanent or severe hearing problems and delays in development.

1. Glue Ear Exercises

There are conservative glue ear exercises you can do to help alleviate some of the condition’s symptoms.

The exercises include nose-blowing, yawning, and swallowing movements. These open up the eustachian tube, which allows extra pressure to push air into the middle ear. Try to avoid sniffing if possible.

2. Grommets

A typical child glue ear treatment is grommets. A grommet is a thin tube inserted into the ear.

This tube allows air to pass through to the eardrum, helping to improve any hearing issues caused by the fluid build-up. Inserting the tube involves a minor operation under anesthetic. Grommets usually fall out on their own within a year.

3. Autoinflation

This treatment involves a balloon. It encourages you or your child to blow up a special medical balloon using a single nostril.

The objective here is to increase air pressure in the eustachian tube, encouraging it to open up and allow more air to flow.

The balloon blowing needs to be done several times a day and is usually not recommended to children under three.

4. Adenoidectomy

Adenoidectomy surgery might be recommended to those suffering from chronic glue ear. During this procedure, the adenoid glands are removed, as these might be a cause of fluid build-up.

When the adenoids become inflamed, the eustachian tubes also become inflamed, adding to the fluid.

5. Hearing Aids

If you or your child has severe glue ear, then hearing aids might be recommended if surgery for grommets is delayed or not an option. These are usually only worn until the glue ear improves.

Preventing Glue Ear

If the glue ear continues for more than a few months, there is a risk of causing permanent damage to the hearing. When a child has chronic glue ear, they might have a higher risk of suffering from delayed speech.

If you are wondering how to prevent glue ear, then there are some things you can do to lessen the chances. Although it is difficult to avoid, especially in young children, you can help prevent chronic glue ear by staying as healthy as possible.

Prevention includes supporting you and your child’s immune system through healthy lifestyle choices, limiting exposure to smoke and other similar inhaled irritants.


Jerika Pring

Jerika Pring

I received my Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 2009 and have 10 years of nursing experience effectively and efficiently managing both patients and staff. I've had experience in Medical and Surgical Wards, Otolaryngology, Gynecology and Obstetrics, Neurology, Pediatrics, Aged Care, and worked as a certified laser technician.

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