My five year old daughter suffers from a blocked ear with a build up of wax and is often unable to hear in her right ear. I’ve tried drops and medication prescribed by my GP but the problem keeps coming back. Can you advise what might be causing it and what types of treatment are available?
Mr Gerard Kelly, Consultant Ear, Nose and Throat specialist replies:
Ear problems are common in childhood and the most common cause of hearing problems is otitis media with effusion, more commonly called ‘glue ear’. This is when thick fluid builds up behind the ear drum, within the middle ear. Wax build up in the ears is also common but, contrary to popular belief, wax rarely causes a significant hearing problem, although it can sometimes cause temporary hearing problems and pain. As your daughter’s symptoms are persistent the best option would be for her to have a hearing test and a pressure test of the ear drum, called a tympanogram. The test is done by some ENT surgeons when the patient is referred to a private hospital. The test could also be organised though a GP in some health centres and NHS hospitals.
The tympanogram will help to show if she has glue ear (or just wax). Glue ear can either be treated by just “watching and waiting” (which in most cases will allow the problem to get better on its own) or a ventilation tube (or grommet) can be placed under a short general anaesthetic to help remove the thick fluid from behind the ear drum. This operation is very successful in improving hearing where the child’s hearing level is badly affected. Sometimes procedures to insert grommets can also help prevent repeated ear infections or pain.