Glue ear


Glue ear is where the empty middle part of the ear canal fills up with fluid. This can cause temporary hearing loss. It usually clears up within 3 months, but see a GP about any hearing problems.

Check if it's glue ear

The most common symptom of glue ear is temporary hearing loss. It can affect both ears at the same time.

Other symptoms may include:

If glue ear lasts a long time, it can affect a child's speech development and progress at school.

Glue ear is much more common in children, but adults with glue ear have the same symptoms.

Other conditions that cause ear pain

  • Symptom could be ear pain with a change in hearing - possible condition could be earwax build-up, an object stuck in the ear (do not try to remove it yourself - see a GP), perforated eardrum (partcularly after a loud noise or accident)
  • Symptom could be ear pain with toothache - possible condition could be children teething or dental abscess
  • Symptom could be ear pain with pain when swallowing - possible condition could be sore throat or tonsillitis
  • Symptom could be ear pain with a fever - possible condition could be ear infection, flu or cold

See a GP if your child has hearing problems

Your child may be struggling to hear if they often:

  • speak loudly
  • are difficult to understand
  • ask people to repeat what they say
  • ask for the TV or music to be turned up loud
  • struggle to hear people far away
  • become easily distracted when people are talking
  • finding it hard to concentrate or seeming tired and irritable because it's harder for them to listen

What happens at your appointment

The GP should be able to tell if it's glue ear by looking for fluid inside the ear.

They'll use a small scope with a magnifying glass and a light. This should not be painful.

If your child has had glue ear for more than 3 months, they may be referred to a specialist for hearing tests.

Hearing tests can help find out how severe any hearing loss is and what's causing it.

Treatment for glue ear from a GP

Glue ear is not always treated. The GP will usually wait and see if the symptoms get better on their own.

This is because there's no effective medicine for glue ear, and it often clears up on its own within 3 months.

Your child may be monitored for up to a year in case their symptoms change or get worse.

Your GP may suggest trying a treatment called autoinflation while waiting for symptoms to improve. Autoinflation can help fluid in the ear to drain.

It's done by either:

  • blowing up a special balloon using 1 nostril at a time
  • swallowing while holding the nostrils closed

As autoinflation has to be done several times a day, it's not usually recommended for children under 3 years old.

Antibiotics may be prescribed if glue ear causes an ear infection.

Hospital treatment

Your child may be referred to a specialist in hospital if:

  • glue ear symptoms are affecting their learning and development
  • they already had severe hearing loss before glue ear
  • they have Down's syndrome or a cleft lip and palate, as glue ear is less likely to get better by itself

The 2 main treatments are temporary hearing aids or grommet (small tubes implanted in the ear).

Occasionally surgery may be recommended to remove some glands at the back of the nose (adenoids). This is known as an adenoidectomy.

The specialist in hospital will help you decide on the best treatment option.

Grommets for treating glue ear

A grommet is a small tube that's placed in your child's ear during surgery. They help drain fluid away and keep the eardrum open.

The grommet should fall out naturally within 6 to 12 months as your child's ear gets better.

If your child needs grommets, you might find these links useful:

The information on this page has been adapted by NHS Wales from original content supplied by NHS UK NHS website
Last Updated: 14/08/2023 10:05:56