Your child's hearing
Glue ear: A guide for parents
Source: National Deaf Children's Society
Glue ear is one of the most common childhood illnesses.
Children under the age of five are the largest group affected, though for some it can persist into adolescence. It is widely accepted that glue ear can cause temporary deafness, delayed speech development in young children and affect children’s behaviour and their educational progress.
Glue ear is often, but not always, linked with ear infections. It can sometimes develop unnoticed. Changes in behaviour, becoming tired and frustrated, lack of concentration, preferring to play alone and not responding when called may indicate glue ear. These signs can often be mistaken for stubbornness, rudeness and being naughty. As a result many children with glue ear are misunderstood or labelled as ‘difficult’.
A prolonged period of time with reduced hearing can affect the way in which a child’s speech develops. For example, parts of words may not be pronounced clearly. Children with glue ear may also fall behind at school and become disruptive if they do not have extra support.
With fluid blocking the middle ear, it becomes harder for sound to pass through to the inner ear. This can make quieter sounds difficult to hear. It can be like listening to the world with both fingers stuck in your ears. It’s hard work, try it for yourself! If your child has glue ear they can’t always hear everything that you say, so it’s no wonder they’re tired and irritable, or just want to be left on their own.
See your family doctor if your child:
• Has a high fever or bad earache
• Has an ear discharge that lasts more than 24 hours
• Seems to be getting worse or you are worried at any time.
If you are worried about your child’s hearing, arrange an appointment with your family doctor (GP). Your GP will examine your child’s ears and should be able to tell if glue ear is present. If there is any pain or sign of infection your GP may prescribe a course of antibiotics. Your GP may want to wait to see if the glue ear clears up by itself before referring your child to an ENT specialist.
Grommets usually stay in until the eardrum has healed and pushed them out. Sometimes the fluid comes back, and another grommet operation may be considered. The specialist doctor should always discuss any risks of operating again with you before you make a decision.
Children’s hearing can be affected for long periods of time while waiting to see if the glue ear clears up naturally or while on the waiting list to have the grommet operation. It is important to make sure that a child’s speech and education does not suffer during this time. You may want to consider hearing aids, or asking for extra support at school.
Research suggests that breast-feeding may reduce the risks of babies and young children developing glue ear. It is thought that breast milk contains proteins which can help stop inflammation and help to protect against glue ear even when breast-feeding has stopped.
Research carried out by the Department of Health has shown that all children are more likely to get ear infections and glue ear if they are often in a smoky environment. A child is likely to experience glue ear for as long as the environment remains smoky.
Parents should try to make their children’s environment smoke-free. The environment includes the home, car, crèche, playgroup or school. If it is not possible to make the environment entirely smoke-free, then smoking should be confined to an area not used much by children. It is important to remember that simply opening a window is not enough, as many dangerous smoke particles will stay in the air.
At the current time they do not recommend using:
Steroids • Antihistamines • Decongestants • Antibiotics • Homeopathy • Cranial osteopathy • acupuncture • Massage • Probiotics • Changing the diet (eg to reduce dairy) • Immunostimulants
A copy of the guidance written for patients and carers is available to download from the NICE website.
It is important to get your child’s attention before you start talking. Make sure you face your child as much as possible, and keep eye contact. Check that background noise is kept to a minimum. Speak clearly, without shouting and maintain your normal rhythm of speech.
The teacher may realise that your child is having problems, but may not be aware that this is because of their hearing. It is important that you tell the teacher about your child’s hearing so that arrangements can be made in school to help. It is important that your child is able to sit near the teacher in the classroom, that they understand what is said and that they are not made to feel awkward about asking for things to be repeated.
Information provided by the National Deaf Children's Society
Reproduced with permission
Page reviewed: 28.1.2009
Disclaimer: This website is for general information only and is not intended as a substitute for independent professional advice.
The medical term for glue ear is otitis media with effusion (OME).