Glue ear

Glue ear (also called otitis media with effusion, or OME) is when the middle ear fills with fluid where normally there is air. It is most common in children but can also occur in adults.


Symptoms can include:

  • Difficulty hearing
  • Earache or pain
  • A 'popping' or 'squelching' sensation in the ears
  • Tinnitus


Glue ear is caused by a problem with the Eustachian tube, which results in fluid building up in the middle ear. Sometimes, glue ear is caused by an ear infection or a cough or cold that prompts extra mucus to be produced.


Visual inspection (otoscopy) by an audiology or medical professional is the first step to identifying glue ear. A test called tympanometry, which can be performed by an audiology professional, can also determine if the eardrum can move - if there is fluid present, the eardrum won't move.

Treatment and prevention

In most cases, glue ear will disappear over time. It can be treated with surgery, with the insertion of grommets (small ventilating tubes) in the eardrum. Prevention of glue ear can include the treatment of the build-up of fluid in the ear before it completely fills the middle ear and treating any issues associated with the Eustachian tube.