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Children's and parenting health centre

Glue ear - What treatments work for glue ear?

BMJ Group Medical Reference

The good news about glue ear is that in many children it clears up without needing treatment, usually within a few weeks or months.

Doctors normally suggest a period of 'watchful waiting' for glue ear, to see if it gets better by itself.

But if your child has glue ear for a long time and it is clearly affecting his or her hearing, your child may need treatment. The main treatment for glue ear is surgery to put in grommets.

In the UK doctors tend not to use any drug treatments for glue ear.

Key points about treating glue ear

  • Your doctor will probably suggest watchful waiting for glue ear. Watchful waiting is when your doctor regularly checks on your child rather than recommending a treatment straight away.

  • Getting your child to blow up a special balloon with his or her nose may open the tubes leading from their middle ear to the back of their throat (the eustachian tubes) and improve their hearing. But your child needs to keep doing this. Young children may find the balloon hard to use.

  • If your child's glue ear does not go away, or if it keeps coming back, your doctor may suggest an operation to put in grommets. Grommets are not a cure for glue ear. But they may improve your child's hearing until he or she grows out of it.

  • Grommets allow the fluid that has built up in the middle ear to drain away. They also prevent fluid from building up if your child gets any more ear infections. But, they can cause side effects.

  • Antibiotics, antihistamines, and decongestants are unlikely to help clear up glue ear or improve hearing. And antibiotics have side effects.

Which treatments work best? We've looked at the best research and given a rating for each treatment according to how well it works.

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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