Glue ear: an animation

Uploaded by NHSChoices on 24.02.2010

Glue ear is a build-up of fluid in the middle ear
and is a common cause of impaired hearing in children.
Let's have a look at how the ear works.
The ear is divided into three parts:
The outer ear is made up of the auricle,
which is the part of your ear you can see,
and the external auditory canal,
a short passageway inside your head
that ends at the eardrum,
a thin membrane that separates the outer and middle ear.
The middle ear contains three tiny bones, or ossicles, known as:
When sound waves hit the eardrum,... vibrates,
which causes the linked bones to move
and pass on sound waves to the inner ear.
The hearing nerve picks up the sound waves
and sends signals to the brain, allowing us to hear.
So, what causes glue ear?
The middle ear is normally filled with air
and is connected to the back of your nose by a narrow canal,
called the Eustachian tube.
The tube is closed most of the time and only opens when you yawn or swallow,
allowing air to move into the middle ear,
and therefore keeps the air pressure on both sides of the eardrum the same.
If the Eustachian tube becomes blocked or swollen,
it can stop air from getting into the middle ear,
causing a vacuum that draws fluid into the area.
This fluid becomes thick and glue-like over time
and prevents the ossicles from moving freely,
which reduces the flow of sound waves to the inner ear
and affects hearing.
In most cases, glue ear clears up without treatment
and doctors normally suggest a period of watchful waiting
to see if it clears up on its own.
However, if it does not go away, or if it keeps coming back,
your doctor may suggest an operation to insert a small tube called a grommet.
Grommets are not a cure for glue ear
but help to bring air back into the middle ear,
which improves hearing.
The surgeon will start by making a small hole in the eardrum
and draining away the fluid.
The grommet is then placed in the hole,
which allows air to move in and out of the middle ear
and the ossicles to move freely,
thereby restoring hearing.
Grommets usually fall out after nine to 15 months,
and around 30% of children who have had grommets inserted
will need them replaced.