Glue ear

A common children’s illness, causing a temporary hearing loss, is glue ear.

The development of glue ear is sometimes brought on by an ear infection. If your child’s behaviour is unusual after a cold or flu, you should suspect that your child may have acquired glue ear. Children with allergies or a genetic condition, such as Down’s syndrome, are also susceptible to glue ear.

Look for changes in behaviour; your child not responding when you call their name can be an indictor of glue ear. Sometimes children with glue ear are mistaken for being naughty because often the child is frustrated, tired and lacks concentration. Children with glue ear may become disruptive at school if they do not get extra support.

What is glue ear?

Glue ear occurs when fluid builds up in the middle part of the ear. For the ear to function normally, this area needs to be kept full of air because vibrations need to pass through the middle ear to the inner ear.

The Eustachian tube, running from the middle ear to the back of the throat, allows air to enter the middle ear. In children, the Eustachian tube is not as wide as an adult’s Eustachian tube and can easily become blocked. When this happens, cells lining the middle ear produce fluid, causing glue ear.


Your doctor can tell you whether or not your child has glue ear after a simple examination.

As glue ear is often brought on with a heavy cold or flu, usually the glue ear will clear up after the cold has gone.

If the glue ear is particularly painful or infected a case of antibiotics can be prescribed. In most cases your doctor will wait for a while to see if the glue ear clears up by itself. The ear, nose and throat clinic at your local hospital will be able to assist if symptoms persist.

A further test may be performed for further investigation. A tympanometry measures how well the eardrum can move. A hearing test may also be required to measure the extent of how the condition is affecting your child’s hearing.

It may be suggested that a period of up to three months is used to monitor the ear. Over time, glue ear will clear up for most children. If it does not, intervention may be required.

When glue ear does not clear up

By undergoing an operation, the fluid in the ear can be drained away. Plastic tubes called grommets can be fitted into the eardrum, which allow air to circulate and stop the build-up of excess fluid.

This is a short operation requiring a general anaesthetic. The surgeons may consider it best to remove your child’s adenoids. Adenoids are glands that can become infected and swollen. The surgeons can tell you more about this procedure.

Grommets are not meant to stay permanently within the ear; usually they are pushed out when the eardrum heals. Sometimes the fluid can return, and grommets can be considered once again.

Ear wax

The purpose of ear wax is to protect and lubricate the ear. Wax is usually removed as skin lining the ear moves outwards, taking the wax with it. Wax production is variable from person to person. Internal removal of ear wax should not be necessary for children.