What it sounds like to have Glue Ear

Listening with Glue Ear will result in speech sounding quieter and muffled.  The NDCS (2017: 7) compares it to ‘listening to the world with your fingers stuck in your ears’.   Listening will be hard work and tiring.  A child’s auditory neurological network is not fully developed so they are unable to make sense of misheard words in the same way as adults (Cole and Flexer 2011).   They do not have the knowledge of language to understand unclear speech.  Listening in noisy environments will be even more challenging.

Speech is made up of sounds of different frequencies and all sounds need to be heard clearly to make sense of the spoken word. A conductive hearing loss due to Glue Ear, can result in speech that is not only quieter but unclear, because low frequency vowel sounds may be easier to hear than quiet high frequency consonants, such as f,s,th.

The sounds of speech can be plotted on an audiogram, a graph which shows loudness and pitch. This audiogram of familiar sounds shows what is often referred to as the ‘speech banana’: a banana shaped area on the audiogram containing the frequencies and decibel levels needed to hear the sounds of speech.

The following hearing loss simulation illustrates how speech intelligibility is affected particularly when listening in noise.  An adult with good language skills may be able to continue to follow the topic of conversation when speech is not as clear. For a child who had a limited vocabulary this will not be possible.


Advanced Bionics (2015) Tools for Schools, Audiogram of familiar sounds Available at:  https://advancedbionics.com/us/en/home/support/tools-for-schools.html  [Accessed: 9 Sept. 2023].

Cole, E. B., & Flexer, C. (2011) Children with hearing loss, developing listening and talking. San Diego, CA: Plural Publishing.

NDCS (2023) ‘Glue Ear’ [Online]  [Accessed: 9 Sept. 2023]