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Ear problems


Glue ear

Glue ear, also known as otitis media with effusion (OME), is much more common in young children but it can also affect adults. It often develops after otitis media (middle ear infection).

Symptoms of glue ear

The most common symptom is temporary hearing loss. It can affect one or both ears.

Other symptoms include:

  • earache or ear pain
  • tinnitus (hearing sounds like ringing or buzzing).

If your child is struggling to hear, they may:

  • speak more loudly or quietly than usual
  • ask people to repeat what they say
  • ask for the TV or music to be turned up loud
  • seem tired and irritable because it’s harder to listen.

Causes

Glue ear is caused when fluid builds up in the middle part of the ear and doesn’t drain down the Eustachian tube, as it normally would. The Eustachian tube is the narrow tube that runs from the middle ear to the back of the throat.

Treatment

In most cases, glue ear clears up naturally within three months. If it doesn’t get better, an ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgeon may recommend an operation where a tiny ventilation tube called a grommet is inserted temporarily into the eardrum. This allows air into the middle ear and allows the fluid to drain back down the Eustachian tube.

Hearing aids may be recommended if surgery isn’t suitable because of other health problems, or if there is another reason to avoid inserting grommets – for example, if grommets haven’t worked in the past and glue ear keeps coming back.

Find out more about glue ear on the NHS website.