Glue ear

What is glue ear? 

Glue ear happens when part of a child’s ear gets blocked up with sticky fluid. Having glue ear can make everything sound muffled, like having your fingers in your ears. A child with glue ear may find it hard to hear adults or their friends, especially when it is noisy. It can take lots of energy for the child to focus on listening so they might get tired or distracted easily. They might not hear words clearly which could affect their talking and understanding of words.  

Around eight in every ten children in the UK will get glue ear at some point in their childhood. There are a few different causes, but many children get glue ear when they have a cold. For most children it clears up on its own in a few months. 

What can I do to help? 

  • Help the child to hear by turning down the TV or music when you are playing and talking together.  
  • Make sure the child can see your facial expressions and body language by getting down to their level and being face to face when you are talking and playing together.  
  • Try to get the child’s attention when you want to talk to them by calling their name. If they don’t respond to you, say their name again, or touch them gently. This lets them know you are trying to talk to them and helps them to focus on you. 
  • Talking slowly will give the child more time to notice and think about what you are saying. Break instructions down into small chunks. Repeat things if the child does not seem to hear you and give them extra time to think about their answers.   
  • If the child makes a mistake with their talking, model how to say the words the right way. For example, if the child says, ’I see lil’ tat’, you could say ‘Yes, you can see a little cat. What a cute little cat!’. For more information on this see our speech sounds advice. 
  • Make sure that the other practitioners and teachers in your setting know about glue ear. You can work together to find tips to help the child here. 

Does a child with glue ear need to see a speech and language therapist? 

Glue ear can cause challenges learning to talk, but children normally catch up once the glue ear clears up. Having glue ear for a long time can cause challenges with learning new words or saying speech sounds the right way.  

What will happen if it doesn’t clear up? 

Ask the child’s parents/carers to talk to their GP or audiologist if they are concerned. If glue ear doesn’t clear up after several months, some children get hearing aids or have grommets fitted. For more information, please visit the following links:  

National Deaf Children Society Parent Guide  

NHS: Glue ear