Glue ear is an extremely common problem with half of the children in UK under the age of 2 being affected at some point. It is a more common complaint during the winter and colder months rather than the warmer, summer months.
Glue Ear is basically when the middle ear becomes filled with fluid which will cause hearing loss.
How do you get glue ear?
The middle ear is very important to allow the vibrations and sounds to travel from the eardrum to the inner ear. Inside the middle ear, there are three tiny bones which move like levers to allow the vibrations to travel. However, glue ear causes the fluid in the middle ear to build up and stop these small bones from working properly.
Unfortunately, there is no scientific evidence to suggest what causes glue ear although a lot of people develop the condition after an ear infection. It is also believed that a child who grows in a household where someone smokes is more likely to suffer from glue ear. There has been some research completed to suggest that glue ear can be genetic and therefore a child is likely to suffer if their parent or sibling did. There is also some evidence to suggest that glue ear may caused by a malfunction with the Eustachian tube.
What is the Eustachian tube?
The Eustachian tube has two main purposes:
- To remove mucus and dirt from the ear
- To maintain air pressure within the middle ear
However, when a person suffers from glue ear, the Eustachian tube cannot do these functions and allows the mucus and dirt to build up.
What are the symptoms of glue ear?
Glue ear can affect one ear individually or both ears at the same time. The biggest symptom of glue ear is hearing loss. A child may not be aware that they are having trouble hearing and ask for help so it may be difficult to diagnose glue ear or understand why they are having difficulties with hearing. Some of the signs which may indicate that your child is suffering include:
- Your child is easily distracted
- Your child does not understand people when they are not close to them
- Your child may not understand people if they talk too quietly
- Your child looks like they are straining to listen
- Your child may be extremely tired or irritable
- Your child may ignore conversations
- Your child may not like noisy or busy situations
- Your child may only thrive with face-to-face conversations
- Your child may not have lots of friends
- Your child may have speech problems or a delay
- Your child may not want to learn
- Your child may want to be alone
- Your child may seem clumsy
- Your child may suffer from balance problems
- Your child may tug and pull at their ear
- Your child may not sleep as well as usual
- Your child may want the volume on the television higher
What should I do?
If you think that your child may be suffering from glue ear or a hearing problem, you should visit your doctor who will be able to refer your child for further tests in order to make a diagnosis.
Most cases of glue ear, will clear naturally and without any need for medication within three months and therefore after you receive a diagnosis, you will need to observe the condition and make regular visits to your doctor for monitoring.
If your child is still suffering from glue ear after three months, you may need extra tests to decide whether further treatment should be the next step and you will be offered advice and information on the condition. Further treatment is not automatically given to all cases as the majority of cases still clear naturally with 12 months.
If your child does require extra treatment, they will most likely be offered surgery. During surgery for glue ear a grommet is inserted into your child’s ear. A grommet allows the fluid in the middle ear to drain away and it also helps to maintain the air pressure within the ear. The operation is carried out under a general anaesthetic and usually takes around 15 minutes to perform; most children are able to come home during the same day.
After surgery, your child may suddenly become aware of sounds and also think that everything is louder than they are used to. This can be quite frightening for a young child although they will get used to their new normal level of hearing.
The grommet will remain in the ear for up to 15 months. At first the grommet will stay in place and keep the ear drum open but as the eardrum heals, the grommet will get pushed out naturally. This may feel strange to your child but it is not normally painful.
A third of children who have had this operation will need further grommets fitted in time.
Can I prevent Glue ear?
Although we do not know exactly what causes glue ear, there are a few factors which are believed to increase the risks of a child suffering from glue ear, including:
- Living in a house with a smoker
- Being bottle-fed
- Having a sibling who also had glue ear
- Having a cleft palate
- Having allergic rhinitis
- Having down’s syndrome
- Having cystic fibrosis
If you have any concerns or worries about your child’s hearing or about glue ear, you should speak to your doctor who can check your child and offer you advice. Your health visitor will also be able to offer advice and guidance.