What is Glue Ear?

The collection of thick, sticky fluid inside the ear is known as glue ear, or middle ear effusion This painless condition can block the middle ear and result in impaired hearing and balance. It is a condition that normally affects children, and if left untreated can affect a child’s behaviour and educational progress.

How Glue Ear Causes Problems

Glue ear is a common condition that often develops after the onset of an ear infection. However, sometimes the cause is not known. The thick, sticky fluid is usually present in both ears and can reduce hearing, which in turn may make a child irritable because they cannot properly hear what is being said to them. If undetected glue ear can also affect a child’s speech development and behaviour.

The thick substance prevents normal movement of the small bones in the middle ear, and therefore creates hearing problems. It is important to have ear problems checked out by a specialist. Although glue ear is a painless condition if left untreated subsequent problems may arise.

Glue Ear Symptoms

If your child is unresponsive to your call, becomes unusually irritable and frustrated and changes behaviour patterns – i.e. preferring to play alone instead of with others – they may be suffering from a bout of glue ear. The stuffiness in their ears is painless so your child may not exhibit the sort of symptoms usually associated with ear ache or hearing problems.

Who is Most at Risk?

Children under the age of seven are the most prone to developing glue ear, with two year olds being the highest risk age group. Boys in particular seem more likely to have glue ear problems, and once it has been diagnosed it is possible to suffer repeatedly from this sticky condition. Genetic conditions like Down’s Syndrome also increase the likelihood of glue ear problems.

Children are most susceptible to glue ear because they are prone to colds and infections that affect the ears and the back of the throat. The build-up of mucus produced then fills the cavity of the middle ear and creates ear problems.

How Glue Ear is Diagnosed

A doctor, or ear specialist, will use an instrument called a otoscope to examine the ear canal. Signs of trapped fluid and poor movement of the bones of the ear may be detected. A tympanometry test – where the eardrum is evaluated using an instrument that observes waves of pressure and movement – may also be used. An abnormal tympanotry test will show indication of fluid in the middle ear, impacted ear wax, scarring of the eardrum, cysts and/or a lack of contact between the bones of the middle ear that regulate sound.

How to Treat Glue Ear

There are a number of treatment options for glue ear. These include antibiotics, the insertion of tympanostomy tubes (grommets) into the eardrum or a procedure called myringotomy, which drains fluid from the middle ear.

Grommets, or tympanostomy tubes, allow the passage of air and help the drainage of fluid. The tubes are inserted after the removal of excess fluid and will stay in the ear for around a year, or until they fall out as the eardrum naturally closes.

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