A sticky subject - Glue Ear!

What is glue ear?

You may have heard teachers or other professionals use the term ‘glue ear’, however unless your child has had a diagnosis, it is unlikely that anyone has spoken to you about it at length, told you the warning signs and given you information on what to look for. Glue ear, formally known as Otitis Media is an inflammation of the middle ear. The ear has three parts, through which sound must pass for it to reach and be processed by the brain. It enters the outer ear, goes in to the middle ear and then the inner ear. When a child has glue ear, the sound gets trapped by a trespassing fluid in the middle and can’t go any further. Glue ear is very common among children between 2 and 5 years of age. Around 15-20 percent of this age group will suffer from it at some point (Peer, L, 2005). Older children can get it too, although this is less common.

The healthy ear


An ear with glue ear


Spotting glue ear.

It is important to be aware of the warning signs as glue ear is fluctuating in nature, meaning that sometimes your child will hear with no problems and at other times they will really struggle. Watch out for:

Tiredness Ear ache (with or without discharge) Waking up at night. Regular colds or breathing through the mouth hearing difficulties (particularly in background noise) Frustration or clingy behavior.

How can glue ear impact on my child’s learning?

Every child is different and having intermittent hearing loss caused by glue ear can impact upon learning in numerous ways. Your child’s teacher may notice and inform you about any of the following:

  • Slow to learn
  • Mishearing some words in speech
  • Easily confused
  • Distractible
  • Poor use and understanding of vocabulary
  • Difficulties concentrating.
  • Difficulties in the playground, following rules for games or keeping up with conversations.
  • Misunderstanding instructions.

What can I do to support my child’s hearing?

Raise your child’s awareness of the importance of listening Before speaking, make sure you have their full attention and that they are looking at you. Switch of background noise e.g. TV. Go down to your child’s level so they can see your face and lips. Recognise that your child may be finding it hard to process a lot of information, be patient and given small amounts of information at a time if needed


Don’t play it by ear! :) There are treatments for glue ear, so if you are in any doubt, get it checked out.

When you speak to your GP, tell them your concerns and they will refer your child for a hearing test. From there, antibiotics may be offered. If antibiotics are unsuccessful in treating this sticky problem then your child may be offered grommets. Grommets are inserted in to the ear and help to drain out the fluid. In most of the cases the fluid will go away by itself with little impact on the child, however if it is left untreated it can have serious consequences for learning and ear health. So to ensure that your child continues to smile from ear to ear, help your GP to identify the problem early on!

Written by Carolyn Fox, Children's Speech and Language Therapist

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