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Everything you need to know about glue ear

Ears are highly functional, yet sensitive, organs of the body. Their position allows them to function, but exposes them to the danger of accidents and infections. One such danger is glue ear. This article discusses glue ear and the ways to treat the condition.

What is glue ear?

Glue ear is a condition where the empty middle part of the ear fills up with a liquid. The condition is also called adhesive otitis media, and the liquid can become sticky and thick, just like glue.

Glue ear should clear up within three months. However, it could cause a middle ear infection while inhibiting your ability to hear. Therefore, it is important to seek medical attention as soon as you spot it.

What causes glue ear?

To understand the cause of glue ear, let us examine the ear’s structure. The ear comprises the outer, middle, and inner sections. Sound waves normally pass through the external ear to reach the eardrum, vibrating the eardrum. The vibrations then travel to the middle-ear bones located in the middle section of the ear. The bones then pass on the vibrations to the cochlea in the inner ear. The cochlea converts the vibrations into electric signals, which travel down the ear nerve to the brain. The brain picks up those signals as sound.

The middle-ear bones usually function in the air-filled middle ear chamber. There is a tube, called the Eustachian tube, that connects that middle section to the back of the nose. While the tube normally remains closed, it occasionally opens to allow air into the chamber or drain the chamber of any fluids.

If the Eustachian tube fails to properly function, you can develop glue ear. Since the tube balances air and fluid in the chamber, any blockage, faulty opening, or constriction could lead to an imbalance between air and fluids. A vacuum forms when fresh air stops flowing into the middle chamber to replace air lost to nearby cells. That vacuum will then pull fluids from the nearby cells into the chamber. For example, children produce more mucus when they have a cold, cough or ear infection. That mucus could collect in the middle chamber, with the malfunctioning tube unable to drain it.

Is it a common condition?

Glue ear is quite a common condition. 8 out of 10 children will experience glue ear before they reach the age of 10. Additionally, glue ear can affect one or both ears.

What are the symptoms of glue ear?

The good news is glue ear is a painless condition. However, it is difficult for children to let parents know they cannot hear well. As such, the condition can get worse due to late or no treatment. Here are other symptoms:

• Dulled hearing

The thick fluid dampens the vibrations and inhibits the movement of the bones. As such, the middle-ear bones cannot capture and transmit the eardrum vibrations well. Therefore, victims can only manage dulled hearing.

• Selective hearing

Children may perceive louder sounds in the early stages of glue ear and fail to hear faint sounds. This is because the thick fluid usually reduces the effectiveness of the middle-ear bones in relaying the vibrations from the eardrum.

• Preference for louder volume

People with glue ear who are not aware of the condition may begin to turn the speaker volume higher than normal. Furthermore, victims may ask others to repeat themselves more than usual. Since the condition is painless, it is hard to attribute the change to internal factors.

• Tinnitus

Victims may also start to hear ringing sounds when there are none. The fluid could cause echoes in the middle ear that the bones pick up as sounds from outside.

Diagnosis of glue ear

You need to visit a doctor if you suspect your child has glue ear. The doctor will examine the ears with specialised equipment to determine if there is fluid build-up. Depending on the build-up, the doctor can recommend continued observation. About half of glue ear cases tend to clear up within 3 months.

What is the treatment of glue ear?

If there is an infection, the child will receive a dose of antibiotics. There are other measures to handle the build-up:

• Auto-inflation

In auto-inflation, the child will blow up a special balloon using their nose. The balloon causes back pressure to open up the Eustachian tube and allow the fluid to drain. The child needs to repeat this process regularly for all the fluid to drain. Auto-inflation works best for older children who can blow the balloon properly.

• Surgery

Surgery is usually the last resort. Doctors prefer to wait and see if other solutions will work. Surgery involves placing the child under general anaesthesia then making small cuts on their eardrums. After draining the fluid, the surgeon places small tubes called grommets into those small spaces. The grommets allow air to pass into the middle chamber, thus allowing for proper hearing. Over time, the grommets fall off as the eardrum heals. By this time, the fluid build-up problem should subside.

Contact VIP Hearing Solutions today

Glue ear is a condition that needs addressing as soon as possible. Since it is common in children, you need to be especially vigilant with yours. At VIP Hearing Solutions, we understand your worry as a parent and are ready to help restore your child’s full hearing. Call us today to schedule a consultation, and let us provide the best solution for your child.