Ear mucus causes, symptoms, grommets, treatment and home remedy

A look at the ear mucus causes, symptoms, grommets, treatment and home remedy.

What causes ear mucus in adults

The middle ear is part of the ear that is directly behind the eardrum. It has three tiny bones which are used to carry sound vibrations from the eardrum to the parts of the inner ear. The build-up of fluid that is linked to the ear mucus prevents the bones from moving freely, thus affecting hearing since it implies that they can’t pass sound vibrations directly to the inner ear.

Exactly what leads to this build-up of fluid is not clear, although it appears to be related to a problem that has got to do with the tube which connects the middle ear to back of the throat. One of the main functions of the Eustachian tube is assisting to drain fluid from the middle ear.

It’s said that problems that are related to the Eustachian tube might be brought about by things such as a previous ear infection, smoke irritation or even the allergies. Ear mucus isn’t brought about by a build-up of ear wax, or even by getting water in the ear after the swimming experience or showering.

Increased risk

The exact reason behind ear mucus is not known, but there are many factors that might increase the risk of children who are developing the condition. These might include:

  • living in a house where people smoke
  • being bottle fed instead of breastfed
  • having a sibling who also had glue ear
  • having contact with the other people, like at college (this might due to a higher risk of infection)
  • having a cleft palate (where a child has a split in the roof of mouth)
  • having allergic rhinitis (an allergic condition that leads to cold-like symptoms, like a runny nose and also sneezing)
  • having Down’s syndrome (this is a genetic disorder that leads to learning difficulties and also disrupts physical development)
  • having cystic fibrosis (which is a genetic condition that leads to the lungs to clog up with thick and sticky mucus)

Ear mucus symptoms

  • Ear pain is common but does not always happen. It is brought about by having a tense, inflamed eardrum.
  • Dulled hearing might be present for a number of days.
  • High temperature is common.
  • Children might feel sick and be generally unwell.
  • Young babies might be irritable. A hot, crying baby might be having an ear infection.
  • Sometimes eardrum bursts. This lets out infected fluid (ear mucus) and normally relives pain suddenly. The ear then becomes runny, sometimes for several days. Most of the perforations are very small. A perforated eardrum normally heals within some weeks after infection clears

Glue ear grommets and ear mucus

Ear mucus is a condition where the middle ear is filled with the glue-like fluid instead of having air. This leads to dulled hearing. It then clears by itself in most of the cases. An operation that can be used to clear the fluid and insert ventilation tubes (grommets) might be advised if the glue ear persists. Please note that most of the children having glue ear do not require an operation.

Grommets are used to maintain normal middle ear pressure through allowing air into the space on the other side of ear drum, especially from outside. This then reduces the risk of fluid building up in the space. If an ear infection does happen, the resultant pus then flows out through the grommet, thus limiting the pain the child suffers.

If the child develops an ear infection with, then the doctor can use topical treatments (like the prescribed ear drops that are put directly into ear) rather than oral antibiotics. Studies indicate that topical treatments are much more effective than the oral antibiotics in treating of the discharging ears.

Grommets are a temporary measure and can ‘buy time’ until the child’s Eustachian tubes grow to a sufficient size so as to work naturally. The Eustachian tubes then connect the space that is behind the ear drum of each ear to the back of the nose.

Most grommets normally stay in place for a period of about 6 to 18 months and then come out by themselves.

Grommets might be recommended for ear mucus that won’t clear up or for any frequent episodes of acute middle ear infections; just to be used as a general guideline, if the child has had:

  • middle ear fluid (ear mucus) for more than 5 months, largely depending on degree of hearing loss
  • 6 acute ear infections in 1 year, more especially if infections have happened in both ears
  • repeat infections through summer months, when such infections are less likely to happen
  • previous complications due to the ear infections

There is not normally any pain in the ears after the grommet insertion. Although the child might be having a little unsettled at first, they are normally back to normal after a few hours. They can return to school the following day.

Most of the parents notice an immediate improvement in the hearing of the child. Travelling home with hands over ears due to the ‘loud’ noises is not in any way uncommon.

Some of the children can have discharge of ear mucus from ears after grommets have been inserted. This is not usually painful and is usually treated using ear drops. See the family doctor if this occurs. If the child’s ear mucus continues to discharge, then the family doctor might send your child to an ear, nose and throat specialist.

Doctors normally vary in their recommendations about the ear protection for the child in water (when swimming, showering and also bathing). Some of the children get ear infections and thus the resultant discharge of ear mucus. Ask your surgeon about this at the time of the operation. You can also discuss this with your family doctor or ear nurse.

Glue ear won’t unblock

Some children continue to have ear problems (ear mucus or recurrent ear infections) once the grommets come out. They might need require a further sets of grommets.

Sometimes getting rid of the adenoids is recommended. There is enough evidence that getting rid of the adenoids is very important in children who need a second or even subsequent grommet insertion. The adenoids then sit at the end of the Eustachian tubes at the back of nose and is thus able to block the tubes if they are swollen

Glue ear and ear mucus treatment

For the first about four months after ear mucus is diagnosed, it’s likely that the child won’t receive any given treatment.

But, the child’s condition can be monitored by the doctor. This is called “active observation” or the “watchful waiting”.

Treatment for ear mucus isn’t usually given much during the first three months after the diagnosis, because over half of all the cases resolve within a period of three months, and there’s no given medication that is used to shorten the length of time that the symptoms last.

Medications such as antihistamines and antibiotics have been tested for treatment of the glue ear, but evidence indicates that they have very little effect in shortening of the duration of symptoms. They can also lead to side effects.

If the child still has fluid due to the ear mucus after about three months, active observation might still continue. This is because 9 out of the 10 cases of ear mucus resolve within 1 year.

Treatment is normally only recommended if the child has:

  • severe hearing loss
  • hearing loss that’s leading to significant problems with learning, development and also the social skills
  • Down’s syndrome or even a cleft palate

Ear mucus is unlikely to be better by itself in the children who have Down’s syndrome or even a cleft palate, and also hearing loss might make the existing communication problems to be much worse.

In the circumstances, you can probably be referred to the local ear, nose and throat specialist for further assessment and treatment.

Hearing aids and also the grommets are the two main treatment options that are available for ear mucus.

The several available treatments that are found for ear mucus are as indicated below. You can as well find out the pros and cons of the treatments for ear mucus, thus allowing you to compare the treatment options.

Hearing aids

Hearing aids are normally recommended for children who have Down’s syndrome, since surgery might have very unpredictable results.

Hearing aids can as well be used when the child is unable to undergo surgery or you’re unwilling for surgery to be carried out.

A hearing aid is an electronic device which have a microphone, amplifier and battery.

Modern hearing aids are small and very much discreet, and some may even be worn inside the ear. The microphone then picks up sound, which is then made louder by the amplifier.

Hearing aids are fitted with devices that is able to distinguish between background noise, like traffic, and foreground noise, like conversation.

Grommets

A grommet is a small tube which is inserted into the child’s ear especially during surgery. It is able to help drain away the fluid in the middle ear and also maintain air pressure.

Grommets are inserted during an operation known as the grommet insertion. The procedure is done under general anaesthetic (the child will be unconscious and thus won’t feel any pain). The procedure takes about 30 minutes, so the child should be able to go home the same day of operation.

During the first few days after the procedure, the child might find that noises sound louder than they’re used to. This is very normal and should pass as the child gets used to having a normal level of hearing.

A grommet can assist to keep the eardrum open for many months. As the eardrum begins to heal, the grommet is slowly pushed out of the eardrum and might eventually fall out. This process occurs naturally and shouldn’t be in any way painful. Most grommets can fall out within a period of 6-12 months of being inserted. Around 1 child in every 3 will require further grommets.

Grommet insertion is a simple and safe procedure, but as with all the types of surgery, there’s a higher risk of complications. These might include developing an ear infection or even a small hole in the ear drum (perforated ear drum).

Other treatments

There are a number of less commonly used treatments for ear mucus that are listed below.

Autoinflation

Autoinflation involves the child blowing up a special balloon by use of the nose. It assists to open up the Eustachian tube, thus making it easier for the tube to drain ear mucus.

This will require to be done regularly, until all the fluid has completely been drained away. Autoinflation might be difficult for young children to do and isn’t suitable.

If autoinflation causes the child pain, treatment should thus be stopped. Autoinflation should also not be done if the child has a cold, throat infection or flu.

Adenoidectomy

An adenoidectomy is normally a surgical procedure that is used to get rid of the adenoids. The adenoids are small, soft glands that are at the back of the nose. They assist to detect germs and also notify the immune system. It’s said that after around the age of 3, the adenoids aren’t required any more, as the the body is able to fight germs without having them.

The adenoids are only removed if they’re leading to problems. For instance, if the child’s adenoids are swollen and also enlarged, they may sometimes block the Eustachian tube. Getting rid of them can assist the Eustachian tube so as to work better.

An adenoidectomy is usually carried out under the general anaesthetic for about 30 minutes and the child will usually be able to go home the very day. The procedure is usually carried out at the same time as a grommet insertion or removal of tonsils.

As with grommet insertion, an adenoidectomy is a simple procedure and the risk of complications is low. But, there’s a small chance of problems, like bleeding and infection.

References;

  1. Glue ear – Treatment: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Glue-ear/Pages/Treatment.aspx
  2. Glue ear: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/glue-ear/Pages/Introduction.aspx
  3. Glue ear – Causes: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Glue-ear/Pages/Causes.aspx
  4. Ear Infection: http://patient.info/health/ear-infection-otitis-media
  5. Grommets: http://www.kidshealth.org.nz/grommets-tympanostomy-or-ventilation-tubes

 

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