Glue Ear in Adults

Glue Ear (otherwise known as Otitis Media with Effusion or Serious Otitis Media) is a common medical condition which affects hearing. This can result in communication challenges at work and social difficulties.


The ear is comprised of three parts: the outer ear canal, the middle ear space (where infections occur) and the inner ear where the nerves and balance are located. The upper throat and back of the nasal cavity or Nasopharynx is connected to the middle ear via a canal called the Eustachian tube.

Approximately 1/3 of glue ear sufferers are adults. The condition occurs when the Eustachian tube fills with fluid rather than air, usually due to a common cold. After a while the fluid can become thick and glue like affecting your hearing.


Glue Ear is a painless condition which causes hearing loss. If you have noticed any of the following symptoms you could be suffering with glue ear:

Dulled Hearing

The sticky glue-like fluid associated with the condition dampens the vibrations made by soundwaves causing a reduction in hearing volume

Selective Hearing

People with glue ear can appear to have selective hearing

Balance problems can be caused by ear conditions

The dulled hearing caused by glue ear can result in communication challenges at work and social difficulties

Using a Louder Volume

If you find yourself turning the volume up louder than usual on household devices, this could be a sign of glue ear

Communication Problems

Social interaction can become strained due to the dulled hearing caused by glue ear



You should consult your GP if you are displaying any of the glue ear symptoms. If your GP suspects glue ear as the cause they will likely ask you to observe a “watch and wait” or “active observation” period. This happens because up to 50% of glue ear cases will spontaneously resolve without treatment.


50% of glue ear cases will spontaneously resolve without treatment


If your symptoms persist your GP will refer you to an Audiologist. Using a tympanometry test the Audiologist will diagnose glue ear. At the point of diagnosis, you will likely be asked to continue the active observation period. If the condition persists after this, they will either refer you back to your GP for an Otovent prescription or to an ENT surgeon for grommet surgery.

Watch and Wait / Active Observation

The wait for a diagnosis can be very frustrating. The desire for treatment is of course made especially urgent if your work and social life are suffering. The Otovent auto inflation device is available over the counter at your local pharmacy. You can also purchase it online. Otovent is the only clinically effective drug-free treatment for Glue Ear.

What is Otovent?

Drug-free and non-surgical, Otovent is an autoinflation device. The balloons included in the kit are specially pressurised to open the eustachian tube when inflated via the nose. This process allows the fluid associated with glue ear to safely drain away. Referring to clinical trials conducted on children diagnosed with glue ear, NICE recommend that auto-inflation is tried during the watch and wait / active observation period.

Grommet Surgery

Grommet surgery is a fifteen-minute operation carried out under general anaesthetic. A small plastic tube is inserted into the ear drum to drain fluid and maintain the correct pressure. Grommets will typically stay in for 6 – 12 months but in around 1/3 of cases can fall out before the glue ear is resolved. Repeat surgery can result in a scarred ear drum.

Other Remedies

NICE and the NHS do not recommend the following alternative treatments due to a lack of supporting clinical evidence: antibiotics, topical or systemic antihistamines, topical or systemic decongestants, topical or systemic steroids, homeopathy, cranial osteopathy, acupuncture, dietary modification, including probiotics, immunostimulants and massage.
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