Glue Ear: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment


Glue Ear, medically termed Otitis Media with Effusion (OME), is a common condition affecting the middle ear, particularly in children. It is characterised by the accumulation of thick, sticky fluid behind the eardrum, which can impair hearing and lead to discomfort. Understanding the causes, symptoms, and available treatments for Glue Ear is crucial for effective management and prevention of potential complications.

Causes of Glue Ear

Glue Ear can be caused by various factors, ranging from anatomical abnormalities to environmental influences. One primary cause is the dysfunction of the Eustachian tube, a small canal that connects the middle ear to the back of the nose and helps regulate air pressure. When this tube becomes blocked or swollen due to infections, allergies, or other reasons, fluid can accumulate in the middle ear, leading to OME.

Frequent colds, sinus infections, and allergies are also common culprits behind  OME development, as they can contribute to the inflammation and blockage of the Eustachian tube. Additionally, exposure to environmental tobacco smoke and certain pollutants may increase the risk of developing this condition.

Symptoms of Glue Ear

Recognizing the symptoms of Glue Ear is essential for early detection and intervention. While the condition may be asymptomatic in some cases, individuals with Glue Ear may experience:

  • Mild to moderate hearing loss: Due to the presence of fluid in the middle ear, sounds may become muffled or unclear.
  • Earache or discomfort: Some individuals may experience pain or a feeling of pressure in the affected ear.
  • Difficulty with balance: The accumulation of fluid can affect the equilibrium, leading to feelings of dizziness or unsteadiness.
  • Frequent ear infections: OME increases the risk of developing recurrent ear infections, which may manifest as ear pain, fever, or drainage from the ear.
  • Delayed speech and language development: In children, prolonged hearing impairment due to OME can impact speech and language skills if left untreated.

It is important to note that symptoms may vary in severity among individuals and may also fluctuate over time.

Treatment for Glue Ear

The management of Glue Ear depends on several factors, including the severity of symptoms, age of the individual, and underlying causes. While some cases of OME  may resolve spontaneously, others may require intervention to alleviate symptoms and prevent complications.

  • Watchful waiting: In cases where symptoms are mild and there are no signs of complications, healthcare providers may recommend a period of watchful waiting. During this time, regular monitoring of symptoms is essential to ensure that the condition does not worsen.
  • Glue Ear remedies: Several home remedies and lifestyle modifications may help alleviate symptoms and promote drainage of fluid from the middle ear. These may include:
    • Nasal decongestants: Over-the-counter nasal sprays or drops may help reduce nasal congestion and improve Eustachian tube function.
    • Steam inhalation: Inhaling steam from a bowl of hot water may help relieve congestion and promote drainage.
    • Chewing gum: Encouraging chewing or swallowing motions may help open the Eustachian tube and facilitate fluid drainage.
  • Medical interventions: In cases where symptoms persist or are severe, healthcare providers may recommend medical interventions such as:
    • Ear tube placement: Also known as tympanostomy tubes, these tiny tubes are inserted into the eardrum to allow for the drainage of fluid and equalisation of pressure in the middle ear. This procedure is commonly performed under general anaesthesia and is often effective in relieving symptoms.
    • Antibiotics: If Glue Ear is associated with an underlying bacterial infection, a course of antibiotics may be prescribed to clear the infection and reduce inflammation.
    • Steroid medications: In some cases, corticosteroid medications may be prescribed to reduce inflammation and promote the resolution ofOME.
  • Surgical intervention: In rare cases where other treatments have been ineffective or if complications arise, surgical intervention may be necessary. Procedures such as adenoidectomy (removal of the adenoids) or tympanoplasty (surgical repair of the eardrum) may be considered to address underlying anatomical abnormalities or persistent fluid accumulation.


While it may not always be possible to prevent OME, certain measures can help reduce the risk of developing the condition:

  • Avoid exposure to tobacco smoke: Environmental tobacco smoke can increase the risk of developing respiratory infections and inflammation, which may contribute to the development of Glue Ear.
  • Practise good hygiene: Encourage regular handwashing and teach children proper techniques for preventing the spread of infections to reduce the risk of upper respiratory tract infections.
  • Address allergies promptly: If you or your child have allergies, work with a healthcare provider to develop an appropriate management plan to minimise symptoms and reduce the risk of complications such asOME.

Can Glue Ear lead to permanent hearing loss?

While Glue Ear (Otitis Media with Effusion) typically causes temporary hearing loss, in some cases, it can lead to permanent hearing loss if left untreated or if it persists for an extended period. The accumulation of fluid in the middle ear can interfere with the transmission of sound waves to the inner ear, resulting in muffled or reduced hearing. If the condition persists for a prolonged period, it may lead to damage to the delicate structures of the middle ear, including the eardrum and the ossicles (tiny bones responsible for conducting sound), as well as to the auditory nerve. In children, whose speech and language development may be particularly vulnerable to hearing impairment, untreated Glue Ear can have long-term consequences. Prolonged hearing loss during critical developmental stages may affect speech and language acquisition, cognitive development, and academic performance. Therefore, timely intervention and appropriate treatment are essential to prevent potential complications and minimise the risk of permanent hearing loss. In most cases, with proper medical management, such as the insertion of ear tubes to facilitate drainage or the resolution of underlying infections, hearing loss associated with Glue Ear can be reversed. However, ifOME is left untreated or if it recurs frequently without adequate intervention, it may increase the risk of permanent damage to the hearing mechanism. It is important for individuals experiencing symptoms of Glue Ear, such as hearing loss or ear discomfort, to seek evaluation and treatment from a healthcare provider to prevent potential long-term consequences.


In conclusion, timely intervention is crucial to prevent long-term complications of Glue Ear, including potential permanent hearing loss. Treatment options such as ear tube insertion and resolving underlying infections can effectively manage the condition, particularly when guided by ENT specialists like Dr. Simple Bhandania, an experienced otolaryngologist. By seeking prompt evaluation and personalised care, individuals can mitigate the risks associated with OME and achieve improved hearing outcomes and overall well-being.