Complications of glue ear 

There are a number of complications your child may develop as a result of having glue ear or surgery to treat the condition.

Many of these problems can either be treated or they improve quickly on their own.

Delayed speech and language development

Children with glue ear may experience some delay in their speech and language development, particularly if their loss of hearing is prolonged and occurs before the age of three.

However, in most cases, the delay is temporary and children usually catch up with their peers once their hearing returns to normal.

One study looked at how children with an early history of glue ear performed at school. No significant differences were found when they were compared with other children of the same age.

Ear infection

An acute middle ear infection (otitis media) is a common complication of glue ear. It develops when bacteria infects the fluid inside the middle ear.

Symptoms of otitis media in children include:

  • ear pain
  • crying more than usual
  • problems sleeping
  • having a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above
  • a discharge of fluid or pus from the ear

About four out of five cases of otitis media will pass within two to three days, without the need for treatment. Antibiotics can be used if symptoms are particularly severe.

Read more about treating otitis media.

Thickening of the eardrum

Slight thickening of the eardrum tissue, known as tympanosclerosis, is a common complication in children who have had glue ear treated with grommets. It occurs in around one in four cases.

It's not known whether the thickening of the ear drum is caused by the grommets, glue ear itself, or a combination of the two.

The thickening of the ear drum is usually so small that there are no noticeable symptoms. Very rarely, tympanosclerosis is severe enough to cause a loss of hearing. This is mostly seen in the small number of people with recurring glue ear and ear infections, and those who have had surgery more than once. It's not common in the majority of children, who only require one set of grommets.

Perforated eardrum

If glue ear is complicated by infection, there's a small risk that pus can form inside the middle ear. The pus can put pressure on the ear, causing a hole (perforation) to develop in the eardrum, which can lead to some loss of hearing. In most cases, the eardrum heals by itself within six to eight weeks.

A persistent perforated eardrum is an uncommon complication of glue ear, occurring in an estimated 1 in every 100 cases. In these cases, the perforated eardrum can be treated using a type of minor surgery called myringoplasty, where tissue is used to seal the hole in the eardrum.

Read more about treating a perforated eardrum.

Page last reviewed: 04/06/2015

Next review due: 30/11/2017