Glue ear is one of the most common childhood illnesses. Children under the age of five are the largest group affected, though for some it can persist into adolescence. Some adults may also be affected.
For ears to work properly the middle ear needs to be kept full of air. The eustachian tube, which usually does this, runs from the middle ear to the back of the throat. In children this tube is not as vertical and wide as it will be when they get older and as a result doesn’t work as well.
If the eustachian tube becomes blocked, air cannot enter the middle ear. When this happens, the cells lining the middle ear begin to produce fluid. This can be like a runny liquid which can get thicker as it fills the middle ear. With fluid blocking the middle ear, it becomes harder for sound to pass through to the inner ear.
This can make quieter sounds difficult to hear. It can be like listening to the world with both fingers stuck in your ears. It’s hard work, try it for yourself!
Glue ear is often, but not always, linked with ear infections. However, it can sometimes develop unnoticed.
A prolonged period of time with reduced hearing can affect the way in which a child’s speech develops. Children with glue ear may also fall behind at school and become disruptive if they do not have extra support. Changes in behaviour, becoming tired and frustrated, lack of concentration, preferring to play alone and not responding when called may indicate glue ear.