Middle ear infection, also known as otitis media or glue ear, is the most common cause for temporary hearing loss.
How the middle ear works:
The middle ear is connected to the back of the nose by the Eustachian tube. The tube opens to allow the pressure to equalize in the middle ear. When there is fluid in the middle ear, behind the eardrum, this is called otitis media.
The lining of the middle ear ‘sweats’ fluid all the time and this fluid usually empties out automatically when our ears “pop”; for example when we swallow or yawn. Air enters the middle ear through the Eustachian tube. If the Eustachian tube is not working properly, from swelling from an infection, it may not allow air to get into the middle ear, or for the fluid to get out. The fluid is thin, but if the middle ear infection is not treated, the fluid can’t get out and air also can’t get in. This fluid may then become thick, like “glue” and start to smell.
How can this affect your child?
The thick fluid blocks some of the sounds in the ear so you child may not hear as well as he or she used to and they may be off-balance and irritable. The hearing loss which occurs is called “conductive hearing loss.” Your child cannot be completely deaf, if the infection is treated early, hearing will recover back to normal. You should not leave your child untreated for too long, as it can affect their speech development and day-to-day activities.
How can this be treated?
If your child only gets ear infection every now and then, antibiotics, along with allergy medication and cortisone tablets can be taken. If your child suffers from ear infection more frequently and the thick fluid persists, you need to go to an ear, nose and throat specialist who might suggest having grommets put in.
What are grommets?
Grommets are very small ventilation tubes made of plastic which are inserted into the eardrum to allow air to enter the middle ear. When inserted it has one flange on the inside of the eardrum and the other on the outside. A grommet is 1.5 to 2 mm big. They aren’t uncomfortable and the grommet usually falls out after 6 to 12 months.
Your child needs to be admitted into hospital to have grommets inserted. It’s a day procedure so they will not have to stay overnight. It is a quick operation that lasts about 45minutes and it’s done under anesthetics so he or she will not have any discomfort. They should not have anything to eat or drink before the operation.
After the operation
They should not have much pain but if fluid from the ear continues for more than a day, consult your doctor. You should avoid water getting into the ear, you can use cotton wool smeared with Vaseline to block the ears when you wash their hair.
If your child has grommets they will need to have their ears checked regularly to see if the grommets are still in the ear drum and still working.