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Ear conditions

Glue ear

Glue ear, also known as otitis media with effusion (OME), is much more common in young children but it can sometimes also affect adults. Glue ear is the build up of fluid in the middle ear (the space behind the ear drum). It often develops after otitis media (middle ear infection).


The most common symptom is temporary hearing loss. It can affect one or both ears.

Other symptoms include:

  • earache or ear pain
  • tinnitus (hearing sounds like ringing or buzzing).

If your child is struggling to hear, they may:

  • speak more loudly or quietly than usual
  • ask people to repeat what they say
  • ask for the TV or music to be turned up loud
  • seem tired and irritable because it’s harder to listen.


Glue ear is caused when glue-like fluid builds up behind the eardrum and because it’s not draining down the Eustachian tube, as it normally would. The Eustachian tube is the narrow tube that runs from the middle ear to the back of the throat.


In children, most cases of glue ear clear up naturally within 3 months. If it doesn’t get better, an ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgeon may recommend an operation where a tiny ventilation tube called a grommet is inserted temporarily into the eardrum. This allows air into the middle ear, helping to keep the middle ear space healthy.

Hearing aids may be recommended if surgery isn’t suitable because of other health problems, or if there is another reason to avoid inserting grommets – for example, if grommets haven’t worked in the past and glue ear keeps coming back.

OME is much less common in adults. Your doctor may refer you to an ENT specialist to investigate what’s caused it.

Find out more about glue ear on the NHS website.