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Glue Ear

What Causes Glue Ear?

Thursday, March 29, 2012 - 20:35

Contributing Author: Guy Slowik FRCS

Glue ear occurs mostly due to a problem with the eustachian tube that connects the middle ear to back of the nose and throat.

The middle ear is normally filled with air that travels through the eustachian tubes to the back of the nose. The eustachian tubes equalize middle ear pressure and help drain fluids in the ear.

  • If the eustachian tubes swell and block the drainage of the middle ear, air cannot enter the middle ear.
  • When this happens, the cells lining the middle ear begin to produce fluid, which can become thick and glue-like as it fills the middle ear.

Children are especially prone to glue ear because:

  • In babies and toddlers, the eustachian tubes are shorter and more horizontal than in an adult. This makes them less efficient to aerate the ear and more likely to become blocked.
  • Children have frequent colds and sore throats because they have yet to build up useful immunity to common viruses, and this can affect the function of the eustachian tubes.
  • In children, the adenoids (lymph tissue at the back of the nose that help protect against infection) are more likely to be enlarged, blocking the opening of the eustachian tubes.

Need To Know:

Q: Are some children more likely than others to get glue ear?

A: Some researchers believe children are at higher risk if they live in regions where there is cold weather, if they have frequent colds or allergy, or if they are exposed to second-hand smoke. Children with genetic conditions such as Down syndrome may have smaller eustachian tubes and may be more susceptible to glue ear.

Nice To Know:

Some researchers have concluded that breast-feeding may reduce the chance of developing glue ear for babies and young children. They believe that breast milk contains proteins that have anti-inflammatory properties. These proteins may help to protect against glue ear even when breast-feeding has stopped.


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