Glue ear is a common condition but very few people are aware of it. Glue ear is known in medical terms as otitis media with effusion; it occurs when fluid collects in the middle ear. Glue ear is very common amongst children; it affects 90 percent of children at some point during their first ten years.

What causes glue ear?

There is no exact cause of glue ear but experts believe the condition is related to the Eustachian tube; this tube connects the middle ear to the back of the nose. The Eustachian tube has two primary functions; these include controlling the pressure inside the middle ear and removing and draining excess mucus and any other deposits from the ear; glue ear occurs when the mucus is not removed properly from the middle ear. There are a few possible reasons why the Eustachian tube is not able to drain away the mucus from the middle ear; these include:

  • Swelling inside the tube, which may be triggered by exposure to certain substances or chemicals, such as cigarette smoke
  • Genetic mutations may cause some children to be prone to glue ear
  • Changes in the pressure inside the middle ear, caused by changes in air pressure
  • Leak of gastric fluids from the stomach up to the Eustachian tubes

Symptoms of glue ear

The most obvious symptom of glue ear is hearing loss, which is usually mild but may be severe. Other symptoms include problems with balance, mild pain in the ear, slower speech development (in very young children) and troubles with sleeping.

Treating glue ear

Most doctors adopt a strategy of ‘watchful waiting’ with children with glue ear; this means monitoring their condition closely but not offering treatment. Most cases of glue ear heal themselves naturally over a period of time but if the symptoms do not improve after a long period of time, the doctor may recommend surgery. Surgery is considered a last resort in most cases and is generally only recommended for those with severe hearing loss or a pre-existing health condition which will affect their development (such as blindness, a hearing impairment or a cleft palate).

Guide to Ear, Nose and Throat Conditions

Ear, Nose and Throat



Glue ear

Infectious mononucleosis




Staying healthy