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Glue ear is one of the most common childhood ailments, yet it can be difficult to detect. Glue ear occurs when the mucus-secreting lining of the middle ear becomes overactive and produces large amounts of sticky fluid. If the tube which links the middle ear to the back of the throat becomes blocked this fluid cannot drain away and accumulates in the middle ear. The condition can appear any time between six months and eight years.

Glue ear is hard to spot because it is usually painless. In babies it is often picked up during the routine hearing test carried out at eight months. In some areas, children are screened again when they are three years old and all are checked before starting school. In older children the first clue is often a degree of deafness. The child may be unaware of their hearing loss unless it is picked up by an observant parent or teacher. There may also be some delay in speech development and the child may develop behavioral problems. Other symptoms include a feeling of fullness in the affected ear or restlessness at night.

In some cases the secretions are caused by allergies and can be corrected with anti-allergy preparations. In mild cases, decongestant drugs may be all that is needed. In some cases glue ear resolves itself on its own but it can take years.

Until recently an operation called a myringotomy was performed in cases of glue ear and some doctors still argue that it is the most effective treatment. However it has disadvantages as it has to be performed under general anaesthetic and doesn't always work.