E-mail: pkollitisis@doctors.org.uk

Glue Ear


Glue ear is one of the most commonest childhood illnesses where children, mainly under the age of six are affected, though it can persist into adolescence and even affect some adults. A prolonged period of time with reduced hearing can affect the way in which a child's speech develops. Children with glue ear may also fall behind at school, as there may be changes in their behaviour. Glue ear can also be linked with ear infections and may be induced by colds, allergies and particularly passive smoking. Some conditions like cleft palate, or Down's Syndrome, may be more likely to get glue ears.

A primary cause for this condition may originate in the middle ear. This requires air in order to function properly and this is provided the eustachian tube, a tube which runs from the middle ear to the back of the nose. This tube is not properly matured in children (more vertical and wide) and hence doesn't work as well. When the eustachian tube becomes blocked and air cannot enter the middle ear changes take place its lining cells and they begin to produce fluid which sometimes is so thick and tenacious it has been likened to 'glue' hence the term glue ears. This fluid in turn blocks the middle ear, where it impedes sounds to pass through to the inner ear. This can make softer sounds difficult to hear. It can be like listening to the world under water.

Glue ear usually self corrects but this can sometimes take time. If it continues to persist for more than 4 months and is causing problems with poor hearing, poor speech or lots of infections, then grommet insertion may well be advocated. During the period of waiting to see if the fluid naturally resolves (usually 4 months) then arrangements are made for the child to sit in the front of the class.

Some doctors may use nose drops or nasal sprays to see if they help. The evidence for this however is limited. Antibiotics and antihistamines do not seem to help this type of ear problem.

A hearing aid may also be used in special cases and situations.