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Glue ear: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About glue ear

Glue ear, as the name suggests is a disorder of the ear, which is an organ of hearing and maintaining equilibrium. The ear is divided into various parts namely external ear (pinna), middle ear and inner ear. The middle ear is connected to the nasal cavity through a tube like structure called as Eustachian tube.

Glue ear is a common ear disorder in children which results due to blockage of Eustachian tube. It may cause partial hearing loss which is generally self-limiting and resolves within a few weeks.

Glue ear: Incidence, age and sex

Glue ear is mainly a childhood condition, commonly encountered in about 1 in 4 children. Children up to 2 years of age are highly susceptible to this ear disorder. However it may also affect adults. Its incidence is higher in boys as compared to girls.

Signs and symptoms of glue ear: Diagnosis

The clinical features of glue ear usually mimic ear infection, thereby causing delay in its detection. The predominant symptom is mild to moderate hearing impairment resulting from a break in the conduction of sound. This may be accompanied with pain in the affected ear and fever. Infrequently, the affected individual may experience dizziness or loss of balance.

It is advisable to consult an ear specialist who shall examine the ear with an instrument named otoscope which helps in examining the inside of the ear. Audiometry tests may be done to confirm conductive hearing loss. Imaging diagnostics like CT scan or MRI may be advised to rule out any other pathological causes.

Causes and prevention of glue ear

Ear is the sense organ responsible for hearing. The sound waves travel from outside to the external ear and hit the ear drum from where they are transmitted to the middle ear. This progressive conduction of sound waves result in hearing. Any break in this sound conduction may lead to hearing loss.

Sometimes, the Eustachian tube (joining ear with nasal cavity) gets congested, thus impeding airflow between the ear and the nose. This causes increased air pressure inside the ears which results in contraction of the ear drum. Subsequently, a sticky glue like substance replaces the air and gets deposited behind the ear drum (in middle ear). This causes a break in the conduction of sound waves resulting in partial conductive hearing loss.

The exact cause of glue ear is not clear. Certain factors like ear infection, upper respiratory tract infection, active and passive smoking and cleft palate are known to increase the risk of causing glue ear.

Glue ear: Complications

Longstanding cases of glue ear may increase chances of bacterial infection of fluid collection in the middle ear. This condition is known by name of otitis media. Furthermore, hearing impairment in young children can lead to hampering of speech and language development.

Glue ear: Treatment

Most of the individuals with glue ear, do not require any treatment since it usually resolves on its own in a few weeks. However, persistent glue ear for more than 3 months, warrants adequate management in form of surgical intervention. Antibiotics are generally avoided to prevent their overuse especially in children. A surgical procedure ‘myringotomy’ is done wherein a tiny incision is made on the ear drum to drain away fluid. Then, a small tube called grommet is inserted through the incisional opening to drain excess fluid collection. Another procedure called balloon treatment may also be considered in some individuals especially children. This procedure entails insertion of a balloon into the nose which when inflated will elevate enough air pressure to open the blocked Eustachian tube and help fluid drain off. The outlook of glue ear is good, with most individuals completely recovering the hearing loss.