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Otitis Media With Effusion (OME)

Ear infection in which fluid remains trapped behind the eardrum inside the middle ear after the infection is over.

PubMed Health Glossary
(Source: NIH - National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders)

About Otitis Media With Effusion (OME)

Sometimes the inflammation clears up and the eardrum heals but the sticky, glue-like fluid stays in the ear. The medical term for this condition is otitis media with effusion (OME), also known as glue ear. Children who have glue ear often have a feeling of pressure in their ear, but rarely experience pain. Glue ear can cause hearing loss, which can in turn lead to delays in speech and language development.

If a child has frequent middle ear infections and the eardrum ruptures (bursts) again and again, the thin membrane may become scarred. This can make the eardrum harder, preventing it from moving freely. If this happens it can lead to hearing loss because incoming sound waves can no longer be fully passed on to the inner ear. IQWiG - Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care

What works? Research summarized

Evidence reviews

Antihistamines with or without decongestants for otitis media with effusion (OME) ('glue ear') in children

Otitis media with effusion (OME), also known as glue ear or serous otitis media, is a condition in which there is fluid persisting in the middle ear. Many treatments have been suggested. This review summarizes the studies using antihistamines, decongestants or a combination of antihistamines and decongestants and finds no benefit for any of the short or long‐term outcomes including resolution of the fluid, hearing problems or the necessity of additional referral to specialists. Further, using these medications causes significant side effects, such as gastrointestinal upset, irritability, drowsiness or dizziness, in approximately 10% of patients. Therefore antihistamines, decongestants or antihistamine/decongestant combinations are not recommended treatments for OME. Watchful waiting is the best approach with consideration of referral for evaluation by an ENT consultant if symptoms persist beyond 12 weeks.

Identification (through screening) of children in the first four years of life for early treatment for otitis media with effusion (OME)

Otitis media with effusion (OME ‐ also known as 'glue ear') is a common condition in children, where sticky fluid accumulates in the middle ear. Although the fluid usually resolves without treatment, it may remain and cause long periods of hearing loss. This may lead to problems with language development and behaviour. Children with OME may show no other symptoms so some have suggested that all children should be checked (screened) for this condition. However, the review of trials in the developed world found that checking children for, and early treatment of, OME before they are four does not result in improved outcomes.

Oral or topical nasal steroids for hearing loss associated with otitis media with effusion (glue ear) in children

Glue ear (otitis media with effusion ‐ OME) is sticky fluid in the middle ear that does not cause pain or fever but can reduce hearing. Steroid drugs (taken orally or as nose spray) are sometimes used to try to speed up the resolution of effusion and so prevent hearing loss. Other treatment options include oral antibiotics and other medicines, or surgical procedures such as grommets (ventilation tubes). This review of trials found that oral steroids (especially when used in combination with antibiotics) speeded up the resolution of OME in the short term. However, there was no long‐term evidence to show lasting benefit or improved hearing. There was no evidence that using steroid drugs as a nose spray benefited children with OME.

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Summaries for consumers

Antihistamines with or without decongestants for otitis media with effusion (OME) ('glue ear') in children

Otitis media with effusion (OME), also known as glue ear or serous otitis media, is a condition in which there is fluid persisting in the middle ear. Many treatments have been suggested. This review summarizes the studies using antihistamines, decongestants or a combination of antihistamines and decongestants and finds no benefit for any of the short or long‐term outcomes including resolution of the fluid, hearing problems or the necessity of additional referral to specialists. Further, using these medications causes significant side effects, such as gastrointestinal upset, irritability, drowsiness or dizziness, in approximately 10% of patients. Therefore antihistamines, decongestants or antihistamine/decongestant combinations are not recommended treatments for OME. Watchful waiting is the best approach with consideration of referral for evaluation by an ENT consultant if symptoms persist beyond 12 weeks.

Identification (through screening) of children in the first four years of life for early treatment for otitis media with effusion (OME)

Otitis media with effusion (OME ‐ also known as 'glue ear') is a common condition in children, where sticky fluid accumulates in the middle ear. Although the fluid usually resolves without treatment, it may remain and cause long periods of hearing loss. This may lead to problems with language development and behaviour. Children with OME may show no other symptoms so some have suggested that all children should be checked (screened) for this condition. However, the review of trials in the developed world found that checking children for, and early treatment of, OME before they are four does not result in improved outcomes.

Oral or topical nasal steroids for hearing loss associated with otitis media with effusion (glue ear) in children

Glue ear (otitis media with effusion ‐ OME) is sticky fluid in the middle ear that does not cause pain or fever but can reduce hearing. Steroid drugs (taken orally or as nose spray) are sometimes used to try to speed up the resolution of effusion and so prevent hearing loss. Other treatment options include oral antibiotics and other medicines, or surgical procedures such as grommets (ventilation tubes). This review of trials found that oral steroids (especially when used in combination with antibiotics) speeded up the resolution of OME in the short term. However, there was no long‐term evidence to show lasting benefit or improved hearing. There was no evidence that using steroid drugs as a nose spray benefited children with OME.

See all (17)

Terms to know

Effusion
The seeping of fluid into a body cavity; the fluid itself.
Hearing Loss
A general term for the complete or partial loss of the ability to hear from one or both ears.
Middle Ear
Part of the ear that includes the eardrum and three tiny bones of the middle ear, ending at the round window that leads to the inner ear.
Tympanic Membrane (Eardrum)
Thin, cone-shaped and flexible structure that separates the external ear from the middle ear and transmits sound from outside the body to inside the ear.
Tympanostomy Tubes (Ear Ventilation Tubes)
A hollow tube that is inserted into the eardrum through a surgical incision.

More about Otitis Media With Effusion

Photo of a child

Also called: Glue ear, Mucoid otitis media, Secretory otitis media, Transudate otitis media, SOM

See Also: Otitis Media, Acute Otitis Media, Recurrent Otitis Media, Chronic Suppurative Otitis Media

Other terms to know: See all 5
Effusion, Hearing Loss, Middle Ear

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