What is glue ear?

Glue ear (also known as secretory otitis media, otitis media with effusion, or serious otitis media) means that the middle ear is filled with fluid that looks like glue. It can affect one or both ears. The fluid dampens the vibrations of the eardrum and ossicles made by the sound waves. The cochlea receives dampened vibrations, and so the ‘volume’ of the hearing is ‘turned down’. Glue ear usually occurs in young children, but it can develop at any age. See What is Glue Ear?

glue ear post image thumb

It is quite common. In the United Kingdom 1,000,000 children are diagnosed with Otitis Media (ear problems) annually. About 200,000 of those children have glue ear also known as otitis media with effution (OME). More than 7 in 10 children have at least one episode of glue ear before they are 4 years old. In most cases it only lasts a short while. Boys are more commonly affected than girls. It is more common in children who:

  • live in homes where people smoke
  • were bottle fed rather than breast fed
  • have frequent coughs, colds, or ear infections
  • have a brother or sister who had glue ear


The main symptoms associated with glue ear is a dullness of hearing. Pain is not usually associated with glue ear, however it is possible to feel a mild discomfort or stuffiness in the ear. See What is Glue Ear? for more symptoms information.

Your child will probably be suffering with dulled hearing so talk clearly and more loudly than usual and always try to get their attention before starting a conversation so that they are able to look at you directly when you speak. Also do not allow anybody in the same house to smoke around your child.


The main cause is probably due to the Eustachian tube not working properly. The balance of fluid and air in the middle ear may become altered if the Eustachian tube is narrow, blocked, or does not open properly. Air in the middle ear may gradually pass into the nearby cells if it is not replaced by air coming up the Eustachian tube. A vacuum may then develop in the middle ear. This may cause fluid to seep into the middle ear from the nearby cells. Some children develop glue ear after a cough, cold, or ear infection when extra mucus is made. The mucus may build up in the middle ear and not drain well down the Eustachian tube. However, in many cases glue ear does not begin with an ear infection. See What is Glue Ear? for more information on causes.

The cause of glue ear is not fully understood, and there is no way of preventing most cases. However, the risk of developing glue ear is less in children who live in homes free of cigarette smoke, and who are breast fed. Avoiding use of dummies also reduces the risk.


If you think your child may be suffering from glue ear, the first thing you should do is visit your nearest GP who will be able to do a full examination of your child’s ear drum to ensure there is no infection in the ear. Typically, if glue ear has been diagnosed, you will be asked to return in a month to see if the condition has improved. This is called the ‘watchful waiting’ period.

Treatment with Otovent

No, you should not use any balloon. The Otovent inflation device is a precision medical device that is designed to apply a specific pressure to the Eustation tube. Use of a any balloon may apply too little pressure, or too much pressure and cause damage.

The balloons enclosed in the pack are made of natural latex and are pressure-tested.  They provide the correct pressure for successful treatment.

No. Otovent has undergone rigorous and comprehensive clinical trials and tests to guarantee its safety.

No. Otovent should be avoided if you child is suffering from a cold or nasal congestion.

Like anything that is new to some children, they find using the Otovent device uncomfortable to begin with. One way of overcoming this obstacle as a parent is to try the Otovent device yourself in order to demonstrate that the device is safe and pain free to use. Quite often, a child may experience a “clicking” sensation or movement in their ears, which means the “glue” is moving and that the device is working.

You can either stretch the inflation device to help them get started or inflate the device for them.

Yes. You may use the Otovent on an airplane with complete confidence. The device can be used as normal when your child feels discomfort in their ear. Otovent has also undergone clinical trials which prove it is effective for equalizing pressure in the middle ear caused by flying.

The Otovent applies pressure to the Eustachian tube that connects the inner ear with the back of the throat. When air travels through the Eustachian tube it equalizes the pressure behind the eardrum with the pressure outside. This causes a popping sensation similar to that you experience when ascending or descending in an aeroplane. If you are suffering from glue ear also known as otitis media with effusion (OME) you will feel the “glue” move. This is as a result of it starting to drain away and is a sign the Otovent is working.

Initially, Otovent should be used at least three times a day (morning, noon, evening). After one week, it should be used at least twice a day (morning and evening). The normal duration of treatment is 2-3 weeks, after which a physician should decide whether or not to continue with the treatment. Each Otovent medical balloon may be inflated a maximum of 20 times.

Yes. It is available on prescription from your healthcare provider. Please visit How to buy page to see information about local distributor in your country.

Clinical data demonstrates that Otovent works in 64% of the more severe cases (hospital cases) where the course of treatment is correctly carried out. It is likely (but as yet unknown) that the rates of cure will be even higher when applied earlier e.g. in primary care (at the GPs / nurses practice), but it is just as important to complete the course correctly for good results.

  • The latest research, conducted the University of Southampton (Williamson et al. 2015), has found that children using Otovent® experienced fewer days with any glue ear related symptoms compared to those that didn’t at both one and three months. Read more about the clincial trial on Otovent®.

Otovent is available on prescription from your health care professional or over the counter at your local chemist. If they do not have it in stock they can order it in within 24 hours.

Visit your local pharmacy to get this information.

Otovent is best used three times a day (morning, midday or after school, and evening), After one week it should be used at least twice a day (morning and evening). Then normal duration of treatment is 2-3 weeks, after which a physician should decide whether or not to continue with the treatment. Each Otovent medical balloon may be inflated a maximum of 20 times.

See section of this website for health care professionals.

Adults and co-operative children – some as young as three years of age – can use Otovent.

Otovent is available over the counter, is safe to use, and there is no reason that some families shouldn’t use the device if they wish to, but it is much more likely to be effective if the condition is assessed properly by the health service and individual support is given. Clinical recommendations for glue ear include active monitoring for three months as many children with this very common condition get better themselves without any treatment. Therefore, at the moment, it is best to seek advice based on individual assessment of your child by the GP or practice nurse on how long to wait before trying this treatment. Hopefully research will resolve this important question in the not too distant future. Ideally it should be applied at a stage where your child has sufficient ear related problems (not just fluid in the ears because this is very common) to make treatment worthwhile.