Glue ear involves inflammation, either chronic or acute, and an accumulation of fluid in the middle ear.

Glue ear can cause pain and hearing impairment. If it persists, an ear, nose and throat specialist will advise a simple operation to put in grommets to allow fluid to drain from the middle ear.

A large number of primary school children suffer from glue ear, especially when colds, flu and other minor infections and childhood diseases are present. The symptoms usually recur on a regular basis, particularly when the child has had a cold or throat infection which has infected the ear. If the problem is considered to be severe then antibiotics will be prescribed, and possibly decongestant nasal drops.

Otitis media is closely related to otitis externa, which is also known as swimmer’s ear. This is an inflammation of the canal joining the ear-drum to the external ear, with similar effects.

If a child exhibits severe pain and distress at school and you suspect that it may be due to an ear infection, it is essential to speak to their parents and advise a visit to the doctor straight away. If left untreated or not treated early enough, ear infections associated with glue ear can cause permanent deafness or mastoiditis, which can lead to a brain abscess.

Key characteristics

A child who suffers with glue ear may:

  • talk loudly and be unaware of the level of their voice
  • have poor listening and attention skills
  • experience difficulties with developing phonological skills
  • often appear to be withdrawn or in a world of their own
  • have difficulties interacting with more than one or two people at a time
  • be unable to participate fully in group activities
  • need to have the sound on the television or radio at a higher level
  • need to have instructions repeated clearly and slowly
  • find it difficult to participate in music or singing lessons
  • put their hands to their ears or head quite frequently (very young children may cry out with the pain)
  • have frequent ear, nose and throat infections.

Support strategies

Always alert the parents if you are concerned about a child’s hearing as this is a medical condition and needs parental action. Within school it is important to support children with glue ear by:

  • speaking slowly and clearly, but not necessarily more loudly
  • allowing the child to sit where they can see your face
  • making sure that you use the child’s name to attract their attention
  • having a low level of background noise in the classroom when you are giving direct teaching to the child’s group
  • providing opportunities for the child to work with a partner rather than in a group
  • giving short, clear instructions.

Support agencies

Deafness Research UK