Glue Ear - A guide to Hearing Loss

This can develop as a result of an ear infection such as otitis media. If your child has an ear infection which hasn’t cleared up and their hearing is still affected then there is good chance that he/she has glue ear.

Glue ear can affect adults as well as children but is much more common in children. It affects boys more than girls.

Why is it called ‘glue ear?’

In an ear infection fluid builds up in the middle ear, behind the ear drum. The Eustachian tube becomes congested as a result of this infection and prevents air from flowing into the middle ear. This drop in air pressure causes the ear drum to contract and tighten.This infection causes the formation of sticky, mucus like substance – the ‘glue’ part - which prevents sound waves from passing towards the ear drum. This means that sounds become stifled, inaudible or even unheard.This causes conductive hearing loss.

Causes of glue ear

This is caused by the following:
  • Coughs and colds
  • Otitis media
  • Allergies to dust mites, pets or cows milk
  • Hay fever
  • Swollen adenoids
  • Passive smoking
  • Siblings who have had glue ear
  • Bottle feeding
  • Contact with other children e.g. nursery school
  • Congenital disorder such as cleft palate

Symptoms of glue ear

These are very much the same as with an ear infection and include earache, high temperature, touching the ears, loss of appetite and hearing loss.

Balance as well as hearing can be affected and you may notice that your child is clumsier than usual, is inattentive or has difficulty with his/her speech.

Treatment for glue ear

You will probably find that your GP will advise you to let the infection clear up on its own rather than give antibiotics. Antibiotics are very effective but overuse in certain situations has resulted in the appearance of ‘superbugs’which have become resistant to their effects. Another reason is that of allowing people to develop a natural resistance to bacteria and other germs which antibiotics may reduce. If this condition doesn’t resolve itself within a certain period of time then your GP can recommend the following:

  • Balloon treatment: a balloon is inserted into the child’s nose which he/she inflates. This increases air pressure which then opens up the Eustachian tube and allows excess fluid to drain away. This is known as ‘autoinflation’.
  • Hearing aids: a hearing aid is an option although this is only used until glue ear clears up. It is an alternative option to surgery.
  • Surgery: this involves making a tiny incision in the ear drum to drain off fluid before inserting a grommet. A grommet is a small tube which is inserted into the ear drum to remove any remaining fluid and enable air to once more flow into the middle ear. This has an instant affect on hearing which immediately improves. This surgery is known as a myringotomy.

If your GP feels that there is little or no improvement then he/she will refer your child to an ear specialist for a hearing test. He or she may also refer your child is there is severe hearing loss or a continuous discharge from the ear.

Hearing Loss in Children : A guide to Hearing Loss

Hearing Loss

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