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Glue ear happens when the middle ear behind the eardrum becomes filled with sticky fluid. Otitis media with effusion OME is the medical name for glue ear. For ears to work properly the middle ear needs to be kept full of air. The air travels through the eustachian tube which runs from the middle ear to the back of the throat. If the eustachian tube becomes blocked, air cannot enter the middle ear.

About glue ear

When this happens, the cells lining the middle ear begin to produce fluid. This is a runny liquid which can get thicker as it fills the middle ear. With fluid blocking the middle ear, it becomes harder for sound to pass through to the inner ear, making quieter sounds difficult to hear.


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Many things can contribute to glue ear, such as colds and flu, allergies and passive smoking. These signs can often be mistaken for stubbornness, rudeness and being naughty. Arrange an appointment with your GP. Often glue ear is associated with a heavy cold and will clear up when the congestion from the cold has gone. If there is any pain or sign of infection your GP may prescribe a course of antibiotics. If the symptoms continue your GP, health visitor or school nurse can refer you to the audiology or ear, nose and throat ENT department at your local hospital.

This will include a tympanometry test, which measures how well the eardrum can move. A graph called a tympanogram will show the results straight away.

These tests are very quick and are completely painless. For most children, the glue ear will clear up in this time. Research has shown that children who have been breastfed from birth are less likely to get glue ear at a young age. Ask your GP or health visitor for more information.

It may help to feed your baby either breastfeeding or with a bottle in a sitting position rather than lying flat. This helps prevent fluids entering the eustachian tube during feeding. A child is likely to experience glue ear for as long as the environment remains smoky. Research suggests that allergy may be related to persistent glue ear in some children. You can ask your GP about testing your child for allergies or referral to an NHS allergy clinic if you think this might be the cause.

Allergies to fur, pollen, dust mites or some foods may cause the eustachian tube to swell and this can prevent fluid from draining from the middle ear. For more information on allergy, you may like to contact the charity Allergy UK. Your GP may monitor your child to see if the glue ear resolves by itself. If your child is diagnosed with glue ear and their hearing is affected, the audiology or ENT department at the hospital will monitor the glue ear over a period of three months.

Grommets are tiny plastic tubes that are put in the eardrum.

Glue ear | KidsHealth NZ

They allow air to circulate in the middle ear and help to reduce the fluid from further building up. This is usually done as a day case and is a short operation in hospital under general anaesthetic. The grommets are inserted after the fluid in the middle ear has been drained away.

A discharge occasionally blood-stained may occur for a couple of days immediately after the operation. If there is, you should see your GP for advice and antibiotic drops. Any prolonged discharge from the ear should be assessed by your ear, nose and throat ENT doctor.

Symptoms of glue ear

Grommets usually stay in for around 6—12 months until the eardrum has healed and pushed them out. Sometimes the fluid comes back and another grommet operation may be considered.


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  7. See here for tips about preparing your child for surgery. After this, most children with grommets don't need to take any special precautions and can swim and bath as usual with grommets in. There are a few children who may be at a particular risk of infection due to water entering the ear. If your child is one of these, your ENT doctor may suggest some of the following precautions.

    The Otovent nasal balloon also known as nasal balloon autoinflation is a non-surgical, drug-free treatment option for glue ear. Autoinflation is a method of encouraging the eustachian tube to open. This can help drain the ear naturally through the eustachian tube, by forcing air from the back of the throat to the middle ear. The Otovent is suitable for children from three years old. It consists of a balloon and a nosepiece. This treatment involves fitting the balloon to the nosepiece, putting the nosepiece against one nostril and keeping the other nostril and mouth closed. The nosepiece is removed and the procedure repeated with the other nostril.

    Audiological diagnosis and management of Glue ear

    The Otovent may be helpful for some older children during the watchful waiting period or while waiting for grommet surgery. Otovents are available on prescription. You can also watch the demonstration video produced by the University of Southampton here or find out more information here.

    Hearing aids are devices designed to make sounds louder. They are used on a temporary basis for glue ear while waiting either for the glue ear to resolve or for grommet surgery. For children who have repeated problems with glue ear or are unable to have grommet surgery, hearing aids can be very helpful. Good quality, digital hearing aids are available free of charge for all children on the NHS. Your child may also be offered a bone conduction hearing implant. Read about Cody who still has glue ear at the age of NICE currently recommends grommets or hearing aids as effective treatments.

    For some treatments, there may be very little or poor quality evidence available.

    Some may also be offered by the alternative or complementary health sector, which doesn't tend to produce the type of scientific evidence reviewed by NICE. They found the following treatments to be ineffective or lacked sufficient evidence to be formally considered effective. A build-up of mucus may be a cause of glue ear.

    Eating more healthy food with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, grains and lean meat or fish may help. You can also ask to see a registered dietician. Homeopathy is a type of care used to treat a wide range of conditions, including glue ear. Phone: voice Email: info britishhomeopathic. All doctors who are listed practitioners with the British Homeopathic Association are registered with the General Medical Council and have undertaken training in homeopathy at a faculty-accredited postgraduate teaching centre.

    Osteopathy is a system of diagnosing and treating conditions, concentrating on the body's structure. This treatment can help to realign muscle tissue, bones and joints, allowing the body to function effectively and in doing so, may relieve pain and ailments.

    Ear infections, earache and glue ear

    Please consult with your doctor or other health professional to make sure this information is right for your child. The lining of the middle ear keeps moist by making a watery liquid. The middle ear connects to the back of the nose by the Eustachian tube. This Eustachian tube is normally closed, but opens for a moment with each swallow or yawn that we do. At that moment, a bubble of air can enter the middle ear and excess liquid empties out. If the lining of the Eustachian tube is swollen when a child has a severe cold, or particularly if the child has allergic rhinitis nasal allergy , the tube can become blocked.

    Similarly if the muscles to open the tube do not work properly as happens often in a child with a cleft palate the tube may not work properly. You may notice your child might need the volume on the TV increased, or when you are talking to them, they may appear not to be paying attention. Some children may become irritable. If these concerns arise, then your child needs to see your family doctor. Grommets are known by a few different names but they all work in the same way to allow air into the middle ear.