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HealthInfo Canterbury

Glue ear (otitis media with effusion)

This page has links to information in Māori.

After a middle-ear infection, there may be some fluid behind the eardrum for several weeks. This is normal and the fluid usually clears up on its own. If it remains behind the eardrum this is called glue ear, or otitis media with effusion.

Glue ear usually gets better with time and most children don't need any treatment. However, sometimes glue ear stays for months, and can cause hearing loss and more ear infections. Because the middle ear is full of fluid instead of air, the eardrum doesn't vibrate properly and so sound doesn't pass on to the inner ear.

After three months of waiting, most children who have had glue ear will have cleared the fluid and be hearing normally. If they still have some hearing loss after three months, your doctor should refer them to an ENT (ear, nose and throat) specialist to assess whether they should have ventilation tubes (also called grommets).

If a young child can't hear properly, their speech and language development may be delayed. They may also have behavioural and learning problems if, for example, they can't hear instructions.

If you have any concerns about speech and language in a child under 5 years, it may help to ask for a referral to the Education Department's Early Intervention Service, or to a private speech-language therapist.

On the next page: Ventilation tubes (grommets)

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Endorsed by clinical director, Otolaryngology, Canterbury DHB. August 2015.

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Page reference: 138075

Review key: HIEIG-48027