KidsPrimary School

Treating glue ear in children

Glue ear happens when your child’s middle ear (the part behind the eardrum) becomes filled with sticky fluid.

One of the most frequent children’s ailments worldwide is a condition known as “glue ear” (medically known as adhesive otitis), which occurs when the middle ear fills with a sticky glue-like fluid. It can take as long as three months to fully clear up but as the fluid drains from your child’s ears, their hearing will improve on its own.

Is glue ear serious?

Although glue ear is often associated with childhood ear infections and, in most cases, not serious, it can sometimes have a long-term impact on your child’s hearing and speech development so it’s important to always chat to your family doctor if you suspect your child has something wrong with their ears. Glue ear is particularly prevalent in young children and often starts in early infancy, but can happen to your child at any age. Glue ear is easily diagnosed. A doctor can look in the ear with an instrument called an otoscope. They can also test your child’s hearing at the same time.

What causes the condition?

Glue ear arises mainly because secretions are unable to drain away down the eustachian tubes running from the ears down to the nose and throat, rather than from an infection. Glue ear can sometimes be aggravated if your child’s adenoids are swollen. In addition, your child may also experience an accompanying nose or throat infection.

Signs and symptoms

Symptoms of glue ear include:

  • Severe pain in or around the ear
  • discharge (leaking) from the ear
  • Redness or swelling around the ear
  • Fever
  • Dizziness
  • Facial palsy (dropping and inability to move one side of the face)

How to treat glue ear the right way

If your child’s glue ear doesn’t clear up by itself or gets worse, your child’s doctor will be able to offer medications to relieve symptoms. In some cases, antibiotics are prescribed. Keep in mind that home remedies – such as putting oil or other substances in your child’s ear to treat an earache – can actually increase the risk of ear infections and other issues and are not recommended.

Good to know

  1. Research suggests that breastfeeding may reduce the risk of babies and young children developing glue ear.
  2. Children with cleft palate, or with genetic conditions such as Down’s syndrome, may be more likely to get glue ear as they often have smaller eustachian tubes that don’t function as well as they should.
  3. Research has shown that children are more likely to get ear infections and glue ear if they’re often in a smoky environment caused by cigarette or tobacco smoke.
  4. If you’re worried about your child’s hearing, arrange an appointment with a doctor or, if possible with the ear, nose, and throat (ENT) department at the local hospital or medical centre.


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