How does the ear work?
- The outer ear collects sounds
- The middle ear is a pea sized, air-filled cavity separated from the outer ear by the paper-thin eardrum
- Attached to the eardrum are three tiny ear bones
- When sound waves strike the eardrum, it vibrates and sets the bones in motion that transmit to the inner ear
- The inner ear converts vibrations to electrical signals and sends these signals to the brain – it also helps maintain balance
Normal middle ear function
- A healthy middle ear contains air at the same pressure as outside of the ear
- Air enters the middle ear through the narrow Eustachian tube that connects the back of the nose to the ear
- When you yawn and hear a pop, your Eustachian tube has just sent a tiny air bubble to your middle ear to equalize the air pressure – the sound of the Eustachian tube opening can often be heard as a crackle
What is otitis media ear infection?
- Otitis media means inflammation of the middle ear – the inflammation occurs as a result of a middle ear infection – it can occur in one or both ears
- When infection occurs, the condition is called “acute otitis media”
- Acute otitis media occurs when a cold, allergy, or upper respiratory infection, and the presence of bacteria or viruses lead to pus and mucus behind the eardrum, blocking the Eustachian tube – this causes earache and swelling
- Otitis media is the most frequent diagnosis recorded for children who visit physicians for illness – it is also the most common cause of hearing loss in children
- Although otitis media is most common in young children, it also affects adults occasionally
- It occurs most commonly in the winter and early spring months
What is glue ear?
- Glue ear is fluid in the middle ear, behing the ear drum
- The other name is “otitis media with effusion”
- Fluid can remain in the ear for weeks to many months after otitis media
- Otitis media and glue ear cause the eardrum to stop working properly causing hearing problems
Ear infection symptoms : What are the symptoms of otitis media and glue ear?
In infants and toddlers look for for these symptoms of ear infection:
- Pulling or scratching at the ear, especially if accompanied by other symptoms
- Hearing problems
- Crying, irritability
- Ear drainage
In young children, adolescents, and adults look for these ear infection symptoms:
- Feeling of fullness or pressure
- Hearing problems
- Dizziness, loss of balance
- Nausea, vomiting
- Ear drainage
How could glue ear affect my child?
- Your child hears poorly through this thick fluid and may seem deaf (and need the TV up louder) or seem inattentive, off-balance or irritable
- If this occurs then your child needs to see your family doctor
- The reason this build up of fluid affects your child’s hearing is that the tiny bones of hearing and the ear drum cannot move freely because of the thick fluid
- This is called a conductive hearing loss
- Children should not be left for long periods with untreated glue ear
- The hearing loss which occurs in this case may affect your child’s speech development, understanding of language, reading and spelling
How bad is the hearing loss with glue ear?
- All children with middle ear infection or fluid have some degree of hearing loss
- The average hearing loss in ears with fluid is 24 decibels – equivalent to wearing ear plugs
- Thicker fluid can cause much more loss, up to 45 decibels (the sound level of conversational speech)
- Your child may have hearing loss if he or she is unable to understand certain words and speaks louder than normal
- Essentially, a child experiencing hearing loss from middle ear infections will hear muffled sounds and misunderstand speech rather than incur a complete hearing loss – the consequences can be significant including delay in learning important speech and language skills
Ear infection treatment : How is glue ear treated?
- If your child normally has good hearing and speech, your family doctor may prescribe antibiotics but will usually wait a few weeks, checking your child frequently to see that the fluid disappears naturally
- The amount of time this takes can depend on how long the ear infection and middle ear fluid has been present
- If the middle ear fluid does not disappear or if your child has hearing loss or speech problems, your family doctor may refer you to an ENT Specialist
- Your child may need grommets (tiny tubes) put in the eardrum to let air into the middle ear and allow the fluid to drain
What are ear grommets and how do they work?
- Grommets are very small ventilation tubes made of plastic that are about 2mm in width
- The grommet sits in the eardrum with one flange sitting on the inside and one on the outside of the eardrum – allowing air into the middle ear
- Once air can enter the middle ear it helps to improve your child’s hearing by allowing the tiny bones of hearing to move freely again
- Grommets will gradually fall out of the drum in time and most children’s hearing will recover fully
- The fluid may come back in some children and further treatment will be needed – some children need grommets again
Remember, without proper treatment, damage from an ear infection can cause chronic or permanent hearing loss – contact your ENT doctor if you have any questions