Glue Ear in Toddlers – What is it, Causes and Symptoms

6 min read

Written by Smita Srivastava

Smita Srivastava

Glue ear or adhesive otitis is quite common in toddlers

Toddlers, those little bundles of curiosity and wonder, are susceptible to ear infections. They are in fact susceptible to many infections, reason being their immunity is not that strong. Usually there is a way of telling if your toddler has an infection as some symptoms show up clearly. But, in the case of ear infections, it’s tough to tell if the toddler has it or not. Glue ear in toddlers is one such infection which may creep up slowly and catch you unawares.

As the toddlerhood progresses, there can be a common occurrence of ear infections in young kids. You may notice your little one ignoring you when you call, but it may not be intentional mischief on their part. Instead, it could be a sign of an ear infection. Although, there can be various types of ear infection that may bug your tiny tot, we are going to focus specifically on glue ear.

In This Article

What is Glue Ear?

image of Glue ear in toddler

Glue ear, also known as adhesive otitis, occurs when the middle part of the ear becomes filled with fluid. This part of the ear is located behind the eardrum. Over time, this fluid can become thick and sticky, resembling glue. This condition is likely to lead to a middle ear infection and can also cause hearing difficulties. Prompt identification and treatment of glue ear are crucial to prevent potential complications.

Like waves crashing on the shore, the incidence of glue ear and middle ear infections in kids ebbs and flows. As your little one ventures into the world of solid foods, their tiny bodies face new challenges. Alongside this transition, they also become more susceptible to colds, making them prime targets for glue ear and middle ear infections.

So, keep a watchful eye on their ears and take proper care and prevention to ensure that they remain free from an infection like glue ear.

Causes of Glue Ear in Toddlers

Thick fluid buildup in the middle ear, resulting in glue ear, is more common in 2-5 year old toddlers due to the narrower eustachian tubes in their ears. These tubes are responsible for maintaining a healthy balance of fluids in the ear. Additionally, severe allergies can cause the eustachian tubes to become swollen and constricted, leading to fluid buildup.

Other potential causes of glue ear may include allergies, enlarged adenoids (tissue at the back of the nose), repeated colds or throat infections, repeated ear infections, exposure to cigarette smoke, and genetic conditions such as Down’s Syndrome and cystic fibrosis.

[Read : Recurrent Infections in My Toddler]

What Are the Symptoms of Glue Ear in Toddlers?

Toddler having glue ear will have difficulty in hearing

To identify whether your toddler is suffering from glue ear or any other infection, it is important to be aware of the following symptoms –

  • According to PubMed, Moderate hearing loss in one or both ears, similar to the sensation of sticking fingers in your ears or listening underwater.
  • Frequent requests for people to repeat themselves.
  • Speaking louder than usual.
  • Increasing the volume of electronic devices.
  • Complaints of ringing or buzzing sounds in the ears.
  • Difficulty keeping up with conversations, especially in noisy environments or with soft-spoken individuals.
  • Discomfort in the ear.
  • Rarely, mild ear pain.
  • Occasionally, balance problems (although rare).

How is Glue Ear Diagnosed in Toddlers?

When it comes to diagnosing glue ear, doctors have a nifty tool up their sleeves—a magnified scope with a little light attached. With this clever contraption, they get an up-close and personal look inside the toddler’s ear. This examination lets them see if there’s any sneaky fluid buildup lurking in the ear. So, rest assured, with their trusty magnified scope, doctors can uncover the secrets of glue ear and determine the best course of action for treatment.

What Are the Treatment Options For Glue Ear in Toddlers?

A kid facing discomfort in ears

In most cases, glue ear resolves on its own as toddlers grow older. The eustachian tubes become larger and more efficient at draining fluid from the middle ear, preventing further buildup.

Initially, many doctors or pediatricians may adopt a ‘wait and watch’ approach without giving any immediate treatment, unless there are signs of an ear infection. They may suggest reevaluating the condition after 2 to 3 months. If the glue ear persists for more than 3 months, treatment options such as regular check-ups or grommets (small tubes inserted into the eardrum to help drain fluid) may be considered.

  • While waiting for glue ear to improve, you can provide home care for your toddler to alleviate their discomfort and support their recovery.
  • For toddlers with outer ear infections, to facilitate the healing of the infection, it is advisable to refrain from swimming for at least one week.
  • If your toddler continues to experience hearing difficulties or irritability in the weeks following a middle ear infection, consult a doctor immediately, as it may indicate glue ear.
  • For better sleep, prop your toddler up with two or more pillows if they are old enough to use them.
  • Avoid smoking in the vicinity of your toddler, as cigarette smoke can hinder fluid drainage from the eardrum, and aggravate the condition further.

The majority of toddlers tend to naturally overcome middle ear issues as they grow older, including glue ear, resulting in undamaged ears and normal hearing.

When to See a Doctor?

A doctor examining a kid's ear

If you suspect your toddler has an ear infection, it is advisable to take them to a doctor. A middle ear infection can spread to the firm, bony area behind the ear, causing redness, swelling, or pain. In such cases, visit the doctor or the local emergency department.

If the toddler frequently experiences ear infections or their hearing appears to be affected by glue ear, it is recommended to have their hearing tested by an audiologist. Your doctor may also refer your toddler to an ENT (ear, nose, and throat) specialist for further evaluation.

Glue ear is quite common in toddlers and kids. Since it’s an infection of the middle ear, it is tough to detect in the initial stages. But, one needs to pay close attention if the toddler seems to be in any sort of discomfort. At the first sign of any issue, it’s better to consult a doctor. Rest assured that ear infections will not be a bother once your toddler grows up. Till then take care and be vigilant.


1. Can Children Grow Out of Glue Ears?

Absolutely! As toddlers grow, their eustachian tubes also develop and mature. This natural evolution results in fewer and milder ear infections. With age, children tend to experience fewer colds, which significantly reduces the likelihood of encountering ear infections along the way.

2. Can Glue Ear Affect a Toddler’s Speech?

Glue ear hampers a toddler’s hearing abilities and causes delays in their language development. But treating the condition often works wonders. It’s like unlocking a secret code! Rapid improvements in language skills are commonly observed as children catch up swiftly with their peers.

3. Can You Prevent Glue Ear in Toddlers?

It is very difficult to prevent the occurrence of glue ear in toddlers. One thing you can do is to ensure that they are healthy and their immune system is developing well. One also has to ensure that their exposure to irritants like smoke is kept to a minimum, and any allergy is identified and dealt with in time.

Read Also: Nose Picking In Toddlers

Smita Srivastava, Bachelors (BA) in Mass Media and Mass Communication from Delhi University
Masters (MA) in Mass Media and Mass Communication from Kurukshetra University

With a background in Mass media and journalism, Smita comes with rich and vast experience in content creation, curation, and editing. As a mom of a baby girl, she is an excellent candidate for writing and editing parenting and pregnancy content. The content she writes and edits is influenced by her own journey through pregnancy and motherhood. When not writing- She can be found curled up with a book. Or, bingeing on Netflix.Read more.

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