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Children's and parenting health centre

Glue ear - What are the symptoms of glue ear?

BMJ Group Medical Reference

One of the main problems with glue ear is that there aren't any obvious symptoms.

Unlike an ear infection, glue ear doesn't cause symptoms like pain, fever, or pus coming out of the ear.

Poor hearing is the most common symptom. It happens because the fluid that is trapped in the middle ear surrounds the eardrum and small bones. This stops them from moving freely to carry sound to the inner ear.

Hearing loss is often easy to miss. But it's important to be aware of signs that a child cannot hear properly. You may notice that your child:[15][16]

  • Seems not to listen to you

  • Has the television on at high volume

  • Has problems hearing if he or she can't see the person speaking

  • Doesn't pay attention

  • Is overactive

  • Asks, "what did you say?" more often

  • Speaks more loudly, or talks less

  • Says words incorrectly or speaks less clearly

  • Falls behind friends in his or her use of new words and speech patterns.

Poor hearing can have other causes, but glue ear is the most common form of hearing loss among children. See your GP if you think your child can't hear properly.

It's hard to know exactly how much your child's hearing may be affected by glue ear. It varies from child to child. Most children with glue ear have what doctors call mild hearing loss. To learn more, see Hearing loss with glue ear.

When the glue ear clears up, your child's hearing will go back to normal.

If your child is having problems hearing because of glue ear, there are things you can do to make sure he or she can hear you and others. To learn more, see How to make sure your child hears you.

A change in your child's behaviour may be the first thing you or your child's carer or teacher notices. Not being able to hear properly can make your child feel cut off and frustrated. This is especially true if he or she is too young to tell you about the problem.

A child with glue ear may be:[17]

  • Restless

  • Fidgety

  • Often disobedient

  • Unable to follow instructions at school

  • Doing less well at school than usual

  • Unable to concentrate for long

  • Unable to get on with other children.

Of course, all young children have these sorts of problems from time to time. So you may find it hard to say whether your child's behaviour is normal. Glue ear is common at ages when children are growing rapidly and going through changes in mood and behaviour anyway. But having glue ear can make behaviour problems worse.

In one study, more than half of pre-school children who'd had glue ear for at least three months had problems with their behaviour.[17] These problems were much less common in children who didn't have glue ear.

Last Updated: December 05, 2012
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.
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