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Glue Ear
Health Guide
What Is Glue Ear?
Glue ear is the single biggest cause of hearing loss in young children - it is nearly twice as common in Maori and Polynesian children and is more common in boys than girls. It occurs when a blockage occurs in the tubes that normally connect the middle ear to the back of the nose and throat (the Eustachian tubes allow air into the middle ear). A build-up of fluid in the middle ear (a glue-like substance) usually results in hearing loss as the ear drums are no longer able to vibrate.

What Cause This Blockage?
Blocked noses, colds, enlarged adenoids (lymphatic tissue at the back of the throat), irritation of the nasal passages (either by infection or allergies) can cause the Eustachian tubes to close up. The build-up of glue-like substance will affect hearing.

How Is This Fluid Drained?
Air must be allowed back into the middle ear, and the fluid drained, for proper hearing to be established. To facilitate this, little devices called grommets are inserted into the ear drum to allow fluid to drain. Once most of the fluid is drained, hearing normally returns.

What Are The Signs Of Glue Ear?
It is very important that glue ear is diagnosed early, the loss of hearing in a young child can seriously impair their speech, play and early development. It may also affect their ability to perform well at school. A Dunedin study showed that there is a nine point IQ difference at the age of 5 between the group with the worse glue ear and that of the group with the "best" ears.
Babies display the following signs:

  • no interest in sounds.
  • crying, fretting, not sleeping.
  • unsettled behaviour.
  • fever or a cold (although this must be present with the other signs)

Toddlers and Young Children

  • failure to respond to sounds, not listening to your speech.
  • a delay in learning to talk.
  • disruptive behaviour - due to discomfort or frustration.
  • unsteadiness and falling over - some inner ear (balance) effects.
  • pus discharge from nose.
  • snoring and mouth breathing.
  • earache.
  • stunted learning curve at school.

How is Glue Ear Treated?
If you suspect that your child has glue ear, see your physician immediately. Early treatment is essential. Your doctor will usually prescribe a course of antibiotics to counter any infection and prevent further fluid from building up in the ear. The dose and course must be carefully followed. Stick to the following guide-lines:

  • make sure all the antibiotics are taken to completion.
  • make sure you attend all follow-up appointments.
  • ask for a glue ear check each time to take your child to the doctor (or nurse)
  • watch for ear discharge.

If a grommet (drainage device also known as a tympanostomy tubes) is needed your doctor may arrange for you to see a specialist to have one inserted. The grommet is placed in the ear drum allowing fluid to drain from the middle ear to the outer ear. Grommets are relatively safe although as with any surgical procedure there is a small risk associated with the anaethesia. Grommets may also cause scarring and tearing of the eardrum, although this is often correctable via surgery.

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