Understanding Glue Ear: Causes, Treatment and Prevention
Glue ear is a common condition that affects children and can cause hearing loss. It is caused by a buildup of fluid in the middle ear, which prevents sound from traveling through to the inner ear. If left untreated, it can lead to long-term hearing problems and speech delays. Fortunately, there are ways to diagnose and treat glue ear, as well as prevent it from occurring in the first place. In this article, we’ll explore the causes of glue ears, treatments available, and methods of prevention. We’ll also offer tips on how to manage the condition and look after your child’s hearing health. Understanding the condition and what to do about it is the first step toward ensuring your child has the best possible hearing.
What is glue ear?
Glue ear is a condition in which the ear becomes filled with fluid due to a blockage or inflammation of the Eustachian tube. The fluid accumulation affects hearing, usually leading to temporary hearing loss. Symptoms may include muffled hearing, pain or pressure in the ear, and a ringing sensation known as tinnitus. Treatment options include antibiotics, decongestants, and sometimes surgery.
Causes of glue ear
- Nasal congestion
- Environmental conditions, such as smoke and air pollution
- Infections such as colds and ear infections
- Changes in atmospheric pressure, such as during air travel
- Obstruction of the Eustachian tube due to enlarged adenoids or allergies
Diagnosing glue ear
Glue ear, also known as otitis media with effusion (OME), is diagnosed through physical examination, hearing tests, and imaging tests. During a physical examination, an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat specialist) inspects the ear canal and eardrum with an instrument called an otoscope. Hearing tests such as audiometry or tympanometry can be used to measure the amount of sound entering the ear. Imaging tests such as CT scans or MRIs may be used to confirm the diagnosis.
Treatments for glue ear
- Observation: Glue ear is usually a temporary condition and, in many cases, will resolve without treatment. Therefore, it is sometimes recommended to wait and observe the child for a period of time before taking any action. In some cases, glue ear resolves after six weeks or even longer.
- Steroid treatment: Steroid medication can be prescribed to reduce inflammation and fluid buildup associated with glue ear. It may take several weeks before any improvement is noticed, however in some cases there can be an immediate reduction in the amount of fluid present or an improvement in hearing levels within 24 hours of taking this medication orally or via injection.
- Grommets: Grommets are small tubes inserted into the eardrum by an ENT specialist during a minor surgical procedure under general anaesthetic (although local anaesthetic may also be used). The grommet helps to ventilate the middle ear which allows air flow into the middle ear space and reduces pressure on the eardrum resulting from accumulated fluids – thereby helping to improve hearing levels as well as reducing effects due to persistent infection such as pain and temporary deafness associated with itchy ears (otalgia).
Prevention of glue ear
Glue ear can be prevented by reducing exposure to second-hand smoke, regularly cleaning the ears, avoiding loud noises and using ear protection when necessary. Additionally, children should use a humidifier in their bedrooms to keep air moist, especially during cold weather. It is also important to treat any underlying infections or allergies promptly.
Tips for looking after your child’s hearing health
- Schedule regular hearing tests: Have your child’s hearing tested regularly by a qualified audiologist to make sure their hearing is within the normal range for their age and that any changes are identified quickly.
- Keep them away from loud noises: Limit your child’s exposure to loud noise and make sure they wear appropriate ear protection when in noisy environments such as concerts or sporting events.
- Monitor use of headphones: Limit the amount of time your child spends listening to music on headphones or earbuds and try to use headphones that reduce volume levels automatically once a certain limit has been reached.
- Clean ears gently: Clean your child’s ears using a gentle, damp cloth instead of cotton swabs, which can push wax further into the ear canal and cause damage to delicate tissues inside the ear drum.
- Watch out for signs of hearing loss: Parents should be aware of potential warning signs for developing hearing loss such as difficulty understanding conversations, constantly asking people to repeat themselves or consistently turning up the volume on devices like televisions or phones too loudly
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