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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Glue ear (otitis media with effusion)

Taringa pia (pokenga taringa waikea)

Ear illustration showing the outer ear, middle ear and inner ear. Also, the ear lobe, ear canal and ear drum.The middle ear usually contains air. Glue ear happens when the middle ear gets blocked and fills up with fluid. This can happen after an ear infection, even if the infection has been treated with antibiotics.

Glue ear is most common in young tamariki (children) but it can happen at any age.

Symptoms of glue ear

The most common symptom is loss of hearing.

Tamariki may not be able to tell you that they have hearing loss. But you may notice that they:

Other symptoms can include:

Diagnosing glue ear

Child's ear examined with otoscopeIf you think your tamaiti (child) may have glue ear, see your general practice team. You should also see your general practice team if you are concerned about their hearing or language development.

Your general practice team will examine their ears using an instrument called an otoscope. An otoscope contains both a small powerful light and a magnifying lens.

Sometimes they will also use a tympanometer. This is a simple device that goes in the ear to check how well the ear drum is moving.

Your general practice team may also recommend a hearing test.

Some areas have mobile ear clinics that visit schools and early childhood education centres. If your area has a mobile clinic, you could also talk to one of the ear nurse specialists. They are trained to diagnose, treat and refer tamariki with middle ear problems.

Treating glue ear

Glue ear usually gets better without any treatment within 3 months.

Your general practice team may recommend regular check-ups. At the check-ups, they will see if the fluid in clearing and check if there are any concerns with hearing or learning to talk.

If your tamaiti has glue ear for more than 3 months or their hearing is affected, your general practice team may refer you to an otolaryngologist. They may also refer your tamaiti if they have several episodes of glue ear. Otolaryngologists used to be called ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialists.

The otolaryngologist may recommend putting small plastic tubes known as grommets in the affected ears.

Helping your tamaiti with glue ear

If your tamaiti has glue ear they may not be able to hear you. You can help them by:

  HealthInfo recommends the following pages

On the next page: Grommets

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed October 2023. Last updated March 2024.


Page reference: 138075

Review key: HIEIG-48027