Making sense of glue ear

glue ear

Making sense of glue ear

glue ear

What is glue ear? 

Think sticky and thick like glue. This is what is sitting in your child’s ear behind their eardrum; a thick, sticky fluid that sits around for longer than it should. 

When your child gets sick or has an ear infection, fluid builds up in the middle ear and associated tubes that then link with the throat. This fluid is an immune response to an infection (usually viral) that helps the body to fight back and clear it (the infection) out.

The fluid eventually drains out of the middle ear area down those tubes and into the throat where our body will further deal with its disposal.

What is glue ear caused by? 

Those tubes are called the Eustachian tubes. Compared to adults, in kids they are much narrower and sit more horizontally between the middle ear and nasal exit points making it a lot harder to rely on gravity for fluid to drain down into the throat.

This is one big reason why kids are more susceptible to ear infections and glue ear. Most children have wider and longer Eustachian tubes making it easier to drain fluids from the ear by the age of around 5. 

Glue ear is what comes after the ear infection when your child is having trouble removing that build up of fluid and mucus. There are a number of reasons why this can occur. 

What are the risk factors?

Age combined with upper respiratory tract infections are the biggest risk factors due to the structural position of those Eustachian tubes.

It is estimated that 80% of children will have one episode of glue ear by the age of 10 and 40% will experience recurrent bouts. 90% of cases resolve on their own by 1 to 3 months with others taking 6 to 12 months. That means that it is highly likely your child will experience a bout of glue ear if they haven’t already done so.

Other risk factors include:

  • Recurrent acute ear infections and tonsilitis
  • Structural issues/ obstructions anywhere between the middle ear, sinuses and throat including enlarged adenoids and cleft palate
  • Allergies (environmental or food) and atopic conditions
  • Immune dysfunction 
  • Food sensitivities 
  • Respiratory microbiome imbalances and bacterial biofilms 
  • Reflux (the movement of gastric contents into the nasopharynx) 
  • Bottle feeding and feeding in a lying down position
  • Nutritional deficiencies 
  • Passive smoking exposure 
  • Day care attendance

What are the symptoms of glue ear?

Glue ear may go unnoticed in a child as it does not come with pain or fever like a normal ear infection. As an adult, we will be aware of a sense of fullness and pressure in the ear and know that our hearing is being affected. A child may not pick up on this or be able to communicate what they are feeling. It may only be picked up when the parent notices their child is not responding to them, constantly asking “What did you say?”, needing the television up louder or someone to talk louder.  

Glue ear treatment by your GP?

Your GP may suggest the use of antibiotics, local steroids and/or decongestants to treat glue ear. If all fails, they may even suggest surgery to insert grommets to help drain the ear and/or remove enlarged adenoids and tonsils. Current guidelines state that routine use of the above medications are not effective and surgery generally provides symptomatic relief only and does not address the underlying causes. 

It should be stated that the longer glue ear persists, the harder it is to resolve naturally and the more likely complications occur. It is important to work with your medical professional to way up the risks and benefits of a treatment plan for your child when addressing glue ear. More severe cases will require monitoring so as to avoid any potential damage to the area that may result in hearing loss and impact speech, learning and social development. 

How can glue ear be treated naturally? 

Working from a natural health perspective provides a causal approach. This not only helps address the glue ear your child is experiencing but also make your child more resilient health-wise.

Not getting to the root cause and dealing with glue ear with grommets, adenoidectomy and/or tonsillectomy shifts the triggers to another area of your child’s health. 

The main aims of treating glue ear naturally include:

  • providing support to reduce inflammation and excess mucus secretions;
  • supporting the drainage of the fluid out of the ear and down the Eustachian tube (this may require a referral to a paediatric osteopath/ chiropractor);
  • identifying and removing/ reducing exposure to allergenic triggers (environmental and/or food);
  • boosting the immune system to strengthen resilience to and resolution of respiratory infections and allergenic triggers;
  • addressing any nutritional deficiencies and switching to an anti-inflammatory and/or low allergenic diet;
  • reducing pathogenic load in the nose and throat with daily mouth/ nasal rinses;
  • addressing any imbalances in the respiratory microbial environment; 
  • addressing feeding positions and reflux.

Get on top of glue ear now and book in today, so that we can put together a treatment plan for your child.

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