Diagnosing glue ear 

A diagnosis of glue ear can usually be confirmed by using an instrument called an otoscope.

An otoscope is a small hand-held device that has a magnifying glass and a light source at the end. It's used to study the inside of the ear and can detect signs that usually indicate fluid inside the middle ear.

These include:

  • the ear drum being pulled inwards
  • the ear drum being an unusual colour
  • the ear drum having a cloudy appearance
  • bubbles and fluid inside the ear

Further testing

Further tests are usually only required if your child's symptoms persist for more than three months. The tests will often be carried out at your local ear, nose and throat (ENT) department and include:

  • audiometry – to assess the extent of your child's hearing loss
  • tympanometry – to assess the flexibility of the eardrum and the bones in the middle ear

These tests are discussed in more detail below.


Audiometry is a hearing test that uses a machine called an audiometer to generate sounds of different volumes and frequencies.

Your child will listen to the sounds through headphones and will be asked to respond when they hear them – for example, by pressing a button.

By decreasing the sound level, the tester can work out the quietest sounds that your child can hear. Your child's ability to hear the different sounds can be seen on a chart called an audiogram.

Audiometry doesn't cause any discomfort and most children find it interesting.


Tympanometry is a test to determine how flexible the eardrum is. For good hearing, your eardrum needs to be flexible to allow sound to pass through it.

If the eardrum is too rigid – for example, because there's fluid behind it – sounds will bounce back off the eardrum, instead of passing through it.

During the test, a small tube with a soft rubber tip will be placed at the entrance of your child's ear and air will be gently blown down it. The tube measures the sound that's bounced back from the ear.

If most of the sound is bounced back, it will indicate to the tester that your child's eardrum is rigid and that they may have glue ear.

Page last reviewed: 04/06/2015

Next review due: 30/11/2017