What is Glue Ear?
Glue ear (otherwise known as “otitis media with effusion” or OME) is a condition whereby fluid build up in the middle part of the ear becasue it cannot drain away as it normally would. It most commonly occurs in children and the reason it is important is because it can impair the childs’ hearing, so they may struggle and get behind at school. Glue ear can occur in adults but it is much less common.
The image above shows the structure of the ear. It has three segments, the outer ear, middle ear and the inner ear. The middle ear is connected to the back of the nose via a tube called the Eustachian tube, and just where it joins the nose lie glands called the Adenoids.
What causes Glue Ear?
Glue ear occurs when the Eustachian tube gets blocked; for example when the Adenoids become enlarged. If the Eustachian tube become blocked the middle ear can fill up with fluid and this makes hearing more difficult because the three tiny bones in the middle ear which allow you to hear sounds cannot move so freely.
What are the symptoms of Glue Ear?
If your child has glue ear they may not complain of any symptoms at all. However they may complain of a “bunged up” feeling, a popping in their ears or ear pain. Young children in particular find it hard to say exactly what is troubling them so a careful examination is important.
How is glue ear treated?
Glue ear will usually resolve on its own within maybe 3 months. However, if it is causing problems with hearing so the child is getting behind with their schoolwork or delays in language development then treatment may be advisable.
Treatment of glue ear invloves allowing the fluid in the middle ear to drain properly, and your ENT surgeon will examine your child and advise you of the best wat forward. Treatment may involve removal of the adenoids (adenoidectomy), the insertion of grommets or both.
Grommets are tiny plastic tubes. A tiny nick is made in the ear drum and the tube inserted under a general anaesthetic. This allows the fluid in the middle ear to drain away naturally and the hearing to improve. Siting grommets is done under general anaesthetic as a daycase procedure.
The Adenoids are glands very similar to the tonsils that lie at the very back of the nose and top of the throat. If the Adenoids are enlarged this can block the opening of the Eustachian tube, so removing the adenoids may be recommended. This also involves a general anaesthetic and is a daycase procedure.