Glue Ear or Otitis Media how earplugs can help –
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Glue Ear or Otitis Media

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Glue ear or otitis media with effusion (OME) is an ear condition that is very common in children. Fluid builds in the middle ear behind the eardrum. OME may cause temporary hearing loss in children. Prolonged hearing difficulties from glue ear may cause speech issues. There is no acute ear pain or other serious issues such as fever associated with glue ear. It is, however, important to take certain precautions such as wearing earplugs to reduce the occurrence of glue ear.

Risk Factors

Glue ear occurs in most children at one time or another before the age of four. Glue ear can develop at any age. There are, however, certain risk factors that increase the odds of a child developing the condition, including:

• Being under the age of seven
• Living in a household with smokers
• Frequent colds and coughs
• Being male (boys tend to be affected more than girls)
• Having a brother/sister who has already had glue ear
• Being bottle-fed
• Face issues such as cleft palate
• Certain genetic conditions (Down's Syndrome, for example)
• Attending daycare or other activities involving contact with other children in an enclosed space

Diagnosing Glue Ear

A doctor confirms glue ear by examining the eardrum. If it looks dull or cloudy, this is usually a sign of glue ear. Fluid behind the eardrum can also be a sign of this condition. A hearing test is usually required to determine how well the eardrum can move. Half of all cases of glue ear naturally go away within two to three months of the initial infection. The rest of the cases usually go away within a year. There is a reluctance to pursue treatment unless the conditions lasts more than a few months or causes discomfort.

Treatments for Glue Ear

If a child is experiencing discomfort or having difficulty with his or her speech, treatment is usually initiated to help the infection go away and to prevent recurrence of glue ear and similar ear infections. Antibiotics are often prescribed as a treatment for glue ear, although there is little evidence that this is beneficial. Steroids are sometimes provided to slow the growth of the infection. Another treatment involves blowing up a small balloon. This technique involves blowing up a special balloon through a plastic tube inserted inside of a child's nose. The act of blowing up the balloon makes it easier for fluid to drain from the middle ear area.


If surgery is required, a small incision is made in the eardrum to allow the "glue" to drain out. Tubes (grommets) are inserted to allow for circulation of air in the middle ear to prevent recurrence of the condition. Eventually, the tubes naturally fall out of the ear. Sometimes the adenoids are removed during the same procedure. About half of all children who have this surgery need to have the grommets reinserted within five years of the first procedure. In order to keep the grommets in place, it is often recommended that children wear earplugs while doing activities such as swimming or taking a bath or shower.

Wearing earplugs while swimming, even without grommets in place, can help to prevent glue ear and similar ear infections in children. Ear drops, water absorbing earplugs or an ear dryer may also be used during and after bathing or swimming to further prevent glue ear and other ear infections in children. Even if children are prone to ear infections but do not show signs of glue ear, it is recommended that earplugs be worn while swimming or when exposed to cold air or windy conditions. Oftentimes, prevention is the best medicine.   

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