Glue ear. So, you have been told your child has this, now what?

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By Carolyn Fox - Service Lead for Hearing Impairment & Specialist Speech and Language Therapist in Hearing Impairment

What is glue ear?

Glue ear is also known as Otitis Media. If you have heard of these terms before, it is likely that either your child or a child of someone you know has suffered with it.  But what exactly is it, how does it affect your child and how concerned do you need to be? Well in this blog, we will be looking at this sticky subject and providing you with some answers and advice. 

Your ear is a clever little listening device that is made up of three parts; the outer, middle and inner ear. For us to hear sounds, the sound must pass from the outer ear, into the middle and inner ear and it then sends the sound information to the brain for processing. However, in a child with glue ear, the sound has a bit of difficulty passing through. It enters the outer ear but when it gets to the middle ear it meets an obstacle; sticky fluid, hence the name ‘glue ear’. A child with glue ear is therefore unable to ear all the auditory information that they should due to this trespassing substance in the middle ear. 

Glue ear is common in young children 

Glue ear is most common in children between ages 2 and 5, this is also an optimum sound and language learning period! 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.

Signs to look out for if you are worried that your child may have glue ear

Knowing what to look out for is very important as glue ear will come and go. This means that children with glue ear will at times have no problems hearing and at other times they will struggle.

Watch out for:

  • Lots of yawning?? Does your child seem more tired these days?

  • Complaints of ear pain. If glue ear is present it may be causing some discomfort. 

  • Is your child waking you up in the night (more than they usually do?)

  • Does your child seem like they always have a cold? Are they breathing through their mouth?

  • Does your child seem to ignore you when you ask them to do something? (More than they usually do?!) Do they generally seem like they are finding it hard to hear?

  • Is your child angrier? Frustrated?

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Will glue ear have an impact on my child’s ability to learn?

All children will respond and behave differently when they have glue ear. There are many ways it can impact upon their ability to stay focused. Look at the list below to get informed and if you notice any of these things, it may be worth getting your child’s ears checked. 

Your child may:

  • Need more repetitions of words and instructions or generally be slow to learn new information.

  • Get confused or mishear information. 

  • Have trouble staying on task or focused at school.

  • Have limited vocabulary knowledge or they may not be learning words at same rate as their peers.

  • Find it hard to join in games or follow the rules of a game.

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

If you are concerned, the first thing you should do is get a hearing test for your child. From there, there are some things you can do to help your child focus and support their hearing potential.  

  • Talk about what it means to listen. Raise your child’s awareness to this e.g. the importance of facing the person, looking at the speaker, telling an adult when you don’t understand.

  • Obtain your child’s full attention when you are speaking to them

  • Where possible, reduce background noise e.g. mobile phones, television.

  • Talk to your child at their level so they can see your face and lips. This will give them invaluable extra information about the words and sounds that you are saying. 

  • Give your child the time that they need to process what you are saying. If needed, break down your sentences in to chunks. 

If in doubt, check it out

In some cases, the sticky fluid will go away without treatment, but it is best to get your child checked out just in case. 

Speak to your GP and tell them what you have noticed and what you are worried about. There are different ways forward in terms of treatment. Your child may be given antibiotics. If this fails to resolve the sticky issue, then grommets may be offered. These are placed into the ear and will drain out the fluid.

Early identification is always better. In the case of glue ear, the earlier the problem is identified, the sooner your child can be given treatment. Early treatment will decrease any adverse effects on language learning and general development.

For more information and support, contact one of our Magic Words therapists for a chat or take a look at the NCDS website: