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Glue Ear

How Is Glue Ear Treated?

Last modified: 
29/03/2012 - 20:32

Contributing Author: Guy Slowik FRCS

Glue ear does not always need treatment. Most physicians prefer a conservative, or "wait and see," approach to treating glue ear.

  • About 90% of cases resolve on their own within three or four months

Children who have complications such as frequent earache, or who might be at risk of developing speech problems because their glue ear is persistent, do need treatment.

The decision on whether or not to treat glue ear - as well as what type of treatment would be involved - is an individual one and requires discussion between parents and doctors. Treatment options include:

Antibiotics

The only medical treatment that has proven effective for glue ear is antibiotic therapy. But antibiotics are not always effective. A physician may prescribe antibiotics if:

  • Infection is present
  • The child is in pain
  • There is evidence of hearing loss

Myringotomy

A procedure called a myringotomy can be used to drain fluid from the middle ear.

A small incision is made in the eardrum to allow fluid to drain. The eardrum heals in about a week.

Myringotomy may also be performed to insert small ear tubes called tympanostomy tubes, or grommets, in the eardrum. These ear tubes allow the passage of air and aid further drainage of fluid.

Ear Tubes

Ear tube surgery, or tympanostomy, is performed in the hospital. Your child probably will be in the hospital for a total of two hours. Infants under 3 months may stay overnight. Here's what to expect:

  • Ear tube surgery will be performed in the operating room.
  • Your child will receive general anesthesia and will be asleep for about 10 minutes.
  • The surgeon will reach the eardrum through the external ear canal opening and will not cut the child's skin.
  • The surgeon will make a small hole in the eardrum to remove any fluid from the middle ear.
  • The surgeon will insert a small metal or plastic tube into the hole in the eardrum to allow the remaining fluid and bacteria to drain through the ear canal.
  • After ear tubes are placed, hearing almost always returns to normal, and the likelihood of your child having ear infections is greatly reduced.
  • Ear tubes stay in the ear for about a year and then fall out on their own as the eardrum closes.

Nice To Know:

Q: Are there risks involved in having ear tubes inserted?

A. Placement of ear tubes must be done in the operating room, and this carries the usual risks associated with any general anesthesia. In a small number of cases, ear tubes don't fall out on their own and must be surgically removed. Also rare are cases in which the ear tube falls out, but the hole in the eardrum left behind does not close up on its own. Surgery may be necessary to patch the hole.

Nice To Know:

If your child has ear tubes, be sure he or she uses earplugs or cotton balls coated in petroleum jelly (Vaseline) to keep water away from the eardrum.

 

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Glue Ear

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From Andrew Maynard - Chair of the University of Michigan Department of Environmental Health Sciences, with help from David Faulkner - 2013 Master of Public Health graduate.