How do I know if my child has glue ear?

Written by: Mr Michael Kuo
Published: | Updated: 13/09/2019
Edited by: Laura Burgess

Glue ear is a very common condition that occurs in children and happens when the middle ear becomes filled with sticky fluid. Do you know how to spot the signs of glue ear in your little one? We’ve asked one of our top paediatric ENT surgeons Mr Michael Kuo to explain how the ear infection presents itself and how long it should take to clear up.

What are the symptoms of glue ear in my child?

The main consequence of glue ear is hearing loss. This can show itself in different ways depending on the age of the child. If it occurs in a young child, you may notice delays in speech and language development.

If it presents in slightly older age, it can present with poor articulation and sometimes even behavioural changes. These can be noticed both by the school nursery, friends, relatives and parents.

In very young children, such as between the age of six months and two years, glue ear may be associated with a recurrent acute ear infection, where the child has a high temperature, the eardrum bursts and there is discharge running out of the ear.

How does a specialist diagnose glue ear?

Glue ear is diagnosed partly from the patient's history, examination and partly from investigations. On examination, the experienced specialist can see typical changes of the eardrum when it is examined, especially if this is with an endoscope. The hearing can then be assessed by a hearing test and a special pressure test called a tympanogram, which can demonstrate fluid behind the eardrum.

Does glue ear always follow middle ear infection?

Glue ear often follows middle ear infection, but it can develop without any evidence of acute infections.

How long should it take for glue ear to clear up?

Glue ear in children can clear up on its own for up to two months after onset, therefore, you do not need to do anything about it until it’s been present for at least six to eight weeks. Glue ear is also a remitting relapsing condition, meaning that it comes and goes.

Can my child go swimming with glue ear?

Swimming should not affect glue ear so yes, a child can go swimming.


Do not hesitate to book an appointment with Mr Kuo if you are concerned that your child needs a check-up.

By Mr Michael Kuo
Otolaryngology / ENT

Mr Michael Kuo is an esteemed and experienced ear, nose, and throat surgeon with a special interest in children’s ENT disorders, particularly in paediatric head and neck diseases, thyroid swellings, voice disorders, breathing problems, and hearing disorders

Mr Kuo graduated from the University of Birmingham. He trained in the West Midlands Higher Surgical Training Programme in otolaryngology and also trained at the University of Hong Kong. He spent three years pursuing molecular biology research as a Medical Research Council and Royal College of Surgeons Fellow, which lead to a PhD. 

Throughout his career, Mr Kuo has held important positions in numerous ENT organisations. He provides clinical teaching at both undergraduate and postgraduate level. He has chaired the education committee of the European Society for Paediatric Otolaryngology and also been a member of the European Examination Board in Otorhinolaryngology

Mr Kuo has published numerous original research papers, review articles, and book chapters. He serves as the only UK member of the editorial board of The Laryngoscope, which is one of the industry's most important references for advances in diagnosis and treatment. For the Royal Society of Medicine, Mr Kuo is the president-elect of the section of Laryngology and Rhinology.  

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