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HealthInfo Canterbury

Diagnosing and treating glue ear

If your child isn't hearing well, especially after an ear infection, your doctor may check to see if they have glue ear.

Diagnosing glue ear

Child's ear examined with otoscopeYour family doctor will ask you questions about your child's health and examine your child's ears. To do this they will use an instrument called an otoscope to look at your child's 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 isn't a hearing test. Passing the test doesn't necessarily mean your child can hear well. It just means it's unlikely they have glue ear at the time of the test.

Sometimes, your doctor may recommend a hearing test for your child.

Treating glue ear

The best treatment for glue ear is time. In most children, glue ear gets better without treatment. For this reason, your GP may simply recommend regular checkups for up to three months so they can check your child's ears.

Antibiotics are no longer commonly used to treat glue ear. They only have a small temporary effect on clearing fluid from the middle ear. Long courses of antibiotics can cause problems such as allergic reactions, diarrhoea, thrush, and antibiotic resistance.

The following treatments don't work -– don't use them for your child:

If your child has fluid in the middle ear for more than three months:

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

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 specially trained to diagnose, treat, monitor and refer for children with middle ear problems.

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Adapted from KidsHealth NZ by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Page created May 2020.

Page reference: 710191

Review key: HIEIG-48027