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What is Glue Ear?

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Updated October 24, 2013

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What is Glue Ear? Photo © A.D.A.M.
Question: What is Glue Ear?
Answer:

Glue ear is another name for serous otitis media, otitis media with effusion (OME), or fluid in the ear. It occurs when fluid becomes trapped in the middle ear. Sometimes the fluid is thick and white, which may look similar to glue.

Glue ear often has no symptoms. It is more common in children than adults because the Eustachian tube, which runs from the middle ear to the back of the throat, is more horizontal in children. Glue ear is more common in bottle-fed infants who drink on their back and children exposed to second-hand smoke.

Left untreated, glue ear can cause delays in a child's development. Hearing loss from glue ear can cause delays in speech development. Motor delays can also occur because balance is controlled by the inner ear. However, not all children who have glue ear have developmental delays and not all children with glue ear require treatment.

The treatment for glue ear depends on the symptoms. If there are no bothersome symptoms and a child is not at risk for delays in their development the doctor may choose to monitor the fluid in the ear at 3-6 month intervals to see if it goes away on it's own. If the fluid persists and bothersome symptoms, developmental delays or hearing loss occurs, treatment is usually the surgical placement of ear tubes, which open the Eustachian tube and allow the fluid to drain into the back of the throat. Sometimes it is necessary to remove the adenoids because enlarged adenoids can block the Eustachian tube and prevent drainage. There has been little evidence supporting tonsil removal as a way to treat glue ear.

Sources:

American Academy of Pediatrics. Clinical Practice Guidelines. Otitis Media with Effusion. Accessed: October 24, 2013 from http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/113/5/1412.full?sid=93df74e5-83ff-42b5-9cf3-1c90fae277d7

Journal Watch Medicine That Matters. Treatments For Severe Chronic Glue Ear Compared. Accessed: Oct 20, 2009 from http://general-medicine.jwatch.org/cgi/content/full/1993/420/1

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