Glue Ear: Guide

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Studies into the incidence of Glue Ear in pre-school children were carried out in the 1980s and 90s.  It is now well documented that a large number of children will have Glue Ear at least once before the age of four and as such there has been little recent research.

There is a high incidence of Glue Ear in the early years and studies have shown that for most children this will clear without intervention.  Glue Ear has been shown to improve in 78-88% of ears and as a result of this finding, guidance arose to wait 3 months before surgical intervention (Tos et al. 1982).  

Zeilhuis et al. (1990) reviewed 23 studies and showed that the incidence of Glue Ear increases after birth reaching a peak at around 2 years.  Attending nurseries leads to an increased risk of upper respiratory tract infection, which in turn causes Glue Ear.  After two years, prevalence decreases followed by a second increase at 5 years of age.  It was thought that starting school was linked to greater exposure to upper respiratory tract infections also.

Zielhuis et al. (1990: p.147 ) concludes that:

                   ‘At least 80% of the children had otitis media with effusion on at least one occasion before the age of four.’

For school age children, the incidence of Glue Ear decreases with age. Williamson et al. (1994) found that the prevalence in 5 years olds was 16.5%,

                                                        6 year olds was 10.5%,

                                                        7 years olds was 6.7%

                                                        8 years olds was 5.6%

Studies have shown that Glue Ear is significantly more prevalent in the winter months (Midgley et al 2000).

8 month olds 36.6% in February compared to 16.4% in August

5yrs 1month  16% in February 3.1% in August



Midgley,E., Dewey, C., Pryce, K., Maw. A., & Alspac Study Team (2000) ‘The frequency of otitis media with effusion in British pre-school children: a guide for treatment.’ Clinical Otolaryngology Vol 25 Issue 6 pp 433-576

Tos, M., Holm-Jensen, S., Hjort Sørensen, C., Mogensen, C., (1982) ‘The Spontaneous Course and Frequency of Secretory Otitis in 4 year old children.’ Archives Otolaryngol Volume 108 pp. 4-10

Williamson, I., Dunleavey, J., Bain, J., Robinson, B., (1994) ‘The natural history of otitis media with effusion - a three-year study of the incidence and prevalence of abnormal tympanograms in four South West Hampshire Infant and First schools.’ The Journal of Laryngology and Otology. Vol 108, pp. 930-934.

Zielhuis.G., Rach.G., Van Den Bosch.A., Van Den Broek.P., (1990) ‘The prevalence of otitis media with effusion: a critical review of the literature.’ Clinical Otolaryngol 15 pp. 283 – 288.

Zielhuis.G., Rach.G., Van Den Broek.P., (1990) ‘The occurrence of otitis media with effusion in Dutch pre-school children.’ Clinical Otolaryngol 15 pp. 147 -153.