Otitis media with effusion, also known as glue ear, is a condition in which there is the presence of thin, sticky fluid in the middle ear, but no ear infection exists. The condition occurs when a person's Eustachian tube, which joins the inner ear to the back of throat, becomes clogged due to things like allergies, cigarette smoke, and respiratory infections. A person of any age can suffer from otitis media with effusion, but children under the age of two are most prone to the condition. Usually not a serious condition, otitis media with effusion usually resolves itself without treatment.
Young children are more apt to develop otitis media with effusion because they have shorter and straighter Eustachian tubes than older children. Also, children under the age of two also have Eustachian tubes with a much smaller opening that can become obstructed more easily. In addition, youngsters are still developing their immune systems and are more susceptible to colds, which often may impede fluid from exiting from the Eustachian tubes.
Typically, a person with otitis media with effusion will not display any particular symptoms and may not even feel sick. Younger children may have trouble hearing, and older children and adults may also experience a sensation of fullness in the ear. The condition may not be known until a person undergoes a routine physical.
Upon examination, a physician generally will find that a person with glue ear has air bubbles and fluid behind the eardrum, and decreased movement in the eardrum in the affected ear. Confirmation of glue ear can be made with a tympanometry, which evaluates the eardrum's responses to sounds at various pressures. A device called an acoustic otoscope can also uncover the existence of fluid in the ear.
Generally, the condition will be monitored and physicians will see if the condition improves without any treatment. In the majority of cases, the fluid will go away in a matter of weeks or months. The condition may get better if a person stays clear from cigarette smoke and has any allergies treated. Antibiotics may be prescribed to help clear the fluid as well.
If fluid lasts two to three months and there is significant hearing loss, a person may need tubes in his affected ear. Children who have fluid in their ears for long periods of time may be prone to developmental delays with their speech or language. Permanent hearing loss, while rare, is also a complication that may develop.