What is glue ear?
Glue ear occurs when the liquid inside the ear becomes thick like glue. Glue ear often follows repeated ear infections. It can affect hearing and lead to other problems. If you think you or your child might have glue ear, see your doctor.
Glue ear is common in young children. It can last for weeks or months, and can affect hearing, speech, learning and behaviour.
What are the signs and symptoms of glue ear?
Often there are no obvious signs of glue ear, so it’s a good idea to get your child’s ears checked regularly.
People with glue ear might:
- have problems with hearing, such as needing to turn the TV volume up
- have problems with balance
- have trouble sleeping
- feel pressure or pain in the ear
- be irritable
If you notice any problems with your ears, or your child’s ears, see your doctor.
What causes glue ear?
Glue ear is caused by blockage of a small tube in the ear, called the Eustachian tube. When fluid is trapped inside this tube, fluid builds up in the middle ear cavity (called an effusion) and this can slowly get thicker. This often happens after a head cold.
Glue ear can happen after repeated middle ear infections. Children living with smokers are more likely to get glue ear than those who don’t. Using a dummy for long periods can make things worse.
How is glue ear diagnosed?
Glue ear is easily diagnosed. A doctor can look in the ear with an instrument called an otoscope. They can also test the hearing.
How is glue ear treated?
Once glue ear has been diagnosed, the doctor might ‘watch and wait’, since it often goes away on its own. If there is an ear infection, antibiotics may be prescribed to help the fluid clear.
If problems such as hearing loss don’t go away within a few months, treatment with tiny tubes called grommets might be suggested. During an operation, grommets are inserted into the ears to help allow air into the middle ear and drain fluid away.
Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.
Last reviewed: May 2020