Glue ear, referred to as otitis media with effusion (OME), is a condition affecting the middle ear—the portion of the canal behind the eardrum. While it doesn’t cause permanent hearing damage, the temporary impairment while it heals can affect little ones’ development.
Glue ear occurs when the middle ear canal becomes filled with fluid, which is sticky in consistency—hence the name. Air is what carries sound to the eardrum—so a fluid-filled canal prevents airflow, causing hearing difficulties. It’s particularly common in children between two and five years of age, with approximately 8 in 10 children contracting the infection at least once by their tenth birthday.
Signs of the glue ear infection include:
- Moderate hearing loss in one or both ears
- Difficulty participating in conversations in a loud room
- Mild ear discomfort
- Balance difficulty (rare)
While your toddler’s hearing won’t be completely impaired—they’ll still be functioning with relative ease—it’s important you consult your doctor immediately in order to diagnose a definite case of glue ear, and not something more serious. Also, a glue ear infection that takes too long to clear up can affect speech development, so all the more reason to have your doc in the loop to monitor the healing progress.
The cause of glue ear is still unknown, but experts do know it’s connected to ineffective drainage on the part of the Eustachian tube, which leads to fluid build-up in the middle ear.
The good news is that the majority of glue ear cases clear up without treatment. But it’s still necessary to check in with your healthcare practitioner to properly examine the ear, confirm the infection, and rule out other issues—you won’t be able to see the fluid yourself (or reach it with a cotton bud!) as it is behind the eardrum.