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HealthInfo Canterbury

Diagnosing and treating glue ear

Te whakatau me te whakarauora i te taringa pia

If your tamariki (child) is not hearing well, your general practice team may check to see if they have glue ear. This is especially important if they have had an ear infection.

Diagnosing glue ear

Child's ear examined with otoscopeYour general practice team will ask you questions about your child's health and examine their ears. To do this they will use an instrument called an otoscope to look at their ear canal and ear drum. An otoscope contains both a small powerful light and a low-power magnifying lens.

Sometimes they will also use tympanometry. Tympanometry is a test to find out how well the ear drum moves back and forth. If there is fluid in the middle ear, the ear drum does not move.

Tympanometry is not a hearing test. Passing the test does not mean your tamaiti (child) can hear well. It just means it is unlikely they have glue ear at the time of the test.

Sometimes, your general practice team may recommend a hearing test for your tamaiti.

Treating glue ear

The best treatment for glue ear is time. In most tamariki, glue ear gets better without treatment. Your general practice team may simply recommend regular check-ups for up to 3 months so they can check your child's ears.

Antibiotics are not commonly used to treat glue ear. They only have a small temporary effect on clearing fluid from the middle ear. Also, long courses of antibiotics can cause problems. These include allergic reactions, diarrhoea, thrush and antibiotic resistance.

The following treatments do not work. Do not use them for your tamaiti:

If your tamaiti has fluid in the middle ear for more than 3 months, your general practise team will decide what to do.

If your child's hearing and development are normal, your general practice team may continue with regular check-ups. As your tamaiti gets older, they are less likely to have glue ear. This is because their eustachian tubes mature to work naturally. It is important to keep having regular check-ups during this time.

Otherwise, they might recommend grommets. In which case, your general practice team may recommend seeing an otolaryngologist. Otolaryngologists were previously called ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialists.

If your tamaiti has had grommets and continues to have hearing or developmental issues, they may need a hearing test. They may also need to see an otolaryngologist again.

Your tamaiti should also see an otolaryngologist if they have repeated episodes of glue ear.

If you are concerned about your child's hearing or language development, see your general practice team.

Some areas have mobile children's 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, monitor and refer tamariki with middle ear problems.

On the next page: Ventilation tubes (grommets)

Content shared between HealthInfo Canterbury, KidsHealth and Health Navigator NZ as part of a National Health Content Hub collaborative. Page created October 2023.


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