Glue ear (secretory otitis media) is a condition caused by a build up of glue-like fluid behind the eardrum, which prevents air from circulating around the inner ear. While it normally clears up on its own, it can lead to temporary hearing loss.
It is especially common in children because of their tendency to pick up colds on a more frequent basis than adults, due to their immature immune systems. A cold can affect the working of the eustachian tubes, which connect the middle ear to the back of the nose and throat, which in turn leads to the glue-like fluid filling the ear.
It is a very common condition and affects more than seven out of 10 children at some point in their childhood. Symptoms can include dulled hearing and mild earache. To confirm glue ear, a doctor will examine the child's ear with an otoscope, which gives a view of the eardrum and enables the doctor to assess the presence of fluid.
While most cases of glue ear clear naturally, persistent glue ear does require treatment. This can include antibiotics, or inflating a special balloon known as an Otovent via the nostrils. This helps to open up the Eustachian tubes and clear the fluid.
If none of these methods work, surgery is required. This involves making a small incision in the ear drum and draining the fluid out.
A tiny tube, known as a grommet, is then inserted behind the eardrum to help keep air circulating and prevent the build up of more fluid.