Glue Ear

Where does the glue in "Glue Ear" come from?

The ear drum is a thin mobile membrane at the end of the ear canal that transmits sound (vibration) to the little bones (ossicles) of the middle ear. The middle ear is a space that lies deep to the eardrum and should be filled with air at the same pressure as outside (atmospheric pressure) The air normally comes from the back of the nose via the Eustachian tube. This tube is prone to blockage in children as it is narrow and the lining swells up with infection or allergy. As the air becomes absorbed by the lining of the middle ear, a negative pressure develops and the ear drum is sucked in. In susceptible children, thick mucous-like fluid may be secreted into the ear behind the drum leading to the condition which is commonly called "glue ear". This fluid interferes with the passage of sound into the ear and the patient becomes deafened or suffers pain in the ears.

Will it get better by itself?

YES. Glue ear is a self limiting condition that once established will usually resolve spontaneously by the age of 6-7 years. If it has not been present for long it is much more likely to resolve so that these children in particular deserve a period of "watchful waiting". The symptoms of deafness and infections are variable but some children do warrant medical or surgical intervention rather than just waiting. The few potential complications from glue ear are rare but it is advisable to monitor the ear during any period of "watchful waiting".

Is it safe to just leave it?

Yes. Most children will have no complications. In children with repeated infections there is a risk of tympanosclerosis (chalky-white palques of "scar" on the ear drum) or of perforation. Long-standing negative pressure can thin the ear drum and erode the ear bones (ossicles). Overall the risk of complications is small and is probably about the same as for surgical treatment.

When are grommets considered?

If there is a persistent difficulty with hearing or ear infections grommets may be considered.  There are national guidelines and a lot of research but there are also many variables so for an individual these also need to be taken into consideration to give a personalised opinion.

Video showing glue ear

Read more on:-Poor concentration and attention after glue ear.

For surgery see Common Operations/Grommets

Read paper on Hearing loss and glue ear

Download all Glue ear and Grommet Information as one PDF document - soon!