Glue ear treatments
Sometimes antibiotics are prescribed for particularly troublesome ear infections. However, they are not prescribed for every ear infection and are rarely used in the treatment of glue ear. Recent research has shown that it is important not to over-prescribe antibiotics, as this would lead to the bacteria becoming resistant to them and the medicines losing their effectiveness. Consequently, nowadays antibiotics might not be given at all, even in a confirmed case of glue ear, unless there has also been recent acute infection. If antibiotics are prescribed, it is important that your child completes the course.
There are other ways of helping children with ear infections and glue ear which are usually more appropriate. A pain-killing medicine may help your child through the worst stage of an ear infection. Parent and teacher awareness will help lessen the consequences of glue ear. A doctor will advise on whether any particular medical or surgical option might be appropriate.
This is a technique in which a child blows up a special balloon using their nose rather than their mouth. The purpose is to force open the Eustachian tube (the tube that connects the middle ear to the throat) and allow pressure in the middle ear to return to normal. One widely available product is called Otovent®.
Continued use of autoinflation over several weeks has been shown to help some children with glue ear, though it is a preventative aid and not a cure. Autoinflation is a 'low-tech' way of helping some children. It can be made into a game, but it needs adult supervision and it can require quite a bit of practice and it is important to persevere.
A small proportion of children, those who experience repeated or long episodes of glue ear, eventually need to have grommets put in. However, this is a very simple procedure and is one of the most common operations for children.
Under a light general anaesthetic, a tiny cut is made to the eardrum. The fluid is drained away and a miniature tube known as a grommet or ventilation tube is inserted through the small hole. The grommet keeps the middle ear aired and healthy. This operation does not usually involve an overnight stay in hospital.
Grommets improve hearing immediately and usually stay in place for between 6 months and a year. They fall out naturally and, when they do, the small hole in the eardrum should heal quickly. For some, the glue ear may return and another set of grommets may be needed.
The ENT specialist will advise on what to do while the grommets are in place. In most cases, children who have grommets can continue to go swimming but diving is usually discouraged. It is important to check with the specialist first. Hair washing advice may also be given.
The specialist may recommend removing your child's adenoid at the same time as putting in grommets. In children prone to respiratory infections, this can help prevent the return of glue ear, and it helps with the other infections too. Sometimes the child stays in hospital overnight.
For more information on glue ear, have a look at our factsheet on glue ear.
If you have any unanswered questions, please get in touch with our Advisory Service.