St. Luke's Hospital
Located in Chesterfield, MO
Main Number: 314-434-1500
Emergency Dept: 314-205-6990 Patient Billing: 888-924-9200
Find a Physician Payment Options Locations & Directions
Follow us on: facebook twitter Mobile Email Page Email Page Print Page Print Page Increase Font Size Decrease Font Size Font Size
America's 50 Best Hospitals
Meet the Doctor
Spirit of Women
Community Health Needs Assessment
Home > Health Information

Multimedia Encyclopedia


    Otitis media with effusion

    OME; Secretory otitis media; Serous otitis media; Silent otitis media; Silent ear infection; Glue ear

    Otitis media with effusion (OME) is when there is thick or sticky fluid behind the eardrum in the middle ear, but there is no ear infection.


    The Eustachian tube connects the inside of the ear to the back of the throat. This tube helps drain fluids to prevent them from building up in the ear. The fluids drain from the tube and are swallowed.

    Otitis media with effusion (OME) and ear infections are connected in two ways:

    • After most ear infections have been treated, fluid (an effusion) remains in the middle ear for a few days or weeks.
    • When the Eustachian tube is partially blocked, fluid builds up in the middle ear. Bacteria that are already inside the ear become trapped and begin to grow. This may lead to an ear infection.

    The following can cause swelling of the lining of the Eustachian tube, leading to increased fluid:

    • Allergies
    • Irritants (especially cigarette smoke)
    • Respiratory infections

    The following can cause the Eustachian tube to close or become blocked:

    • Drinking while lying on your back
    • Sudden increases in air pressure (such as descending in an airplane or on a mountain road)

    Getting water in a baby's ears will not lead to a blocked tube.

    OME is most common in winter or early spring, but it can occur at any time of year. It can affect people of any age, although it occurs most often in children under age 2. (It is rare in newborns.)

    Younger children get OME more often than older children or adults for several reasons:

    • The tube is shorter, more horizontal, and straighter, making it easier for bacteria to enter.
    • The tube is floppier, with a tinier opening that's easy to block.
    • Young children get more colds because it takes time for the immune system to be able to recognize and ward off cold viruses.

    The fluid in OME is often thin and watery. It used to be thought that the longer the fluid was present, the thicker it became. ("Glue ear" is a common name given to OME with thick fluid.) However, it is now believed that the thickness of the fluid has more to do with the particular ear than with how long the fluid is present.


    Unlike children with an ear infection, children with OME do not act sick.

    OME often does not have obvious symptoms.

    Older children and adults often complain of muffled hearing or a sense of fullness in the ear. Younger children may turn up the television volume because of hearing loss.

    Exams and Tests

    Thedoctor or nursemay find OME while checking your child's ears after an ear infection has been treated.

    The doctor or nurse will look for certain changes when examining the eardrum:

    • Air bubbles on the surface of the eardrum
    • Dullness of the eardrum when a light is used
    • Eardrum that does not seem to move when little puffs of air are blown at it
    • Fluid behind the eardrum

    A test called tympanometry is a more accurate tool for diagnosing OME. The results of this test can help tell the amount and thickness of the fluid.

    An acoustic otoscope or reflectometer is a more portable device that accurately detects the presence of fluid in the middle ear.

    An audiometer or some other type of formal hearing test may help the health care provider decide what treatment is needed.


    Unless there are also signs of an infection, most health care providers will not treat OME at first. Instead, they will recheck the problem in 2 - 3 months.

    Some children who have had repeat ear infections may receive a smaller, daily dose of antibiotics to prevent new infections.

    Certain changes may help clear up the fluid behind the eardrum:

    • Avoiding cigarette smoke
    • Encouraging breastfeeding for infants
    • Treating allergies by staying away from triggers (such as dust). Older children may be given allergy medications.

    Most often the fluid will clear on its own. You doctor may suggest waiting and watching to see if the condition worsens.

    If the fluid is still present after 6 weeks, treatment might include:

    • Further observation
    • A hearing test
    • A single trial of antibiotics (if not given earlier)

    If the fluid is still present at 8 - 12 weeks, antibiotics may be tried, although they are not always helpful.

    At some point, the child's hearing should be tested.

    If there is significant hearing loss (> 20 decibels), antibiotics or ear tubes might be appropriate.

    If the fluid is still present after 4 - 6 months, tubes are probably needed, even if there is no significant hearing loss.

    Sometimes the adenoids must be removed to restore proper functioning of the Eustachian tube.

    Outlook (Prognosis)

    Otitis media with effusion usually goes away on its own over a few weeks or months. Treatment may speed up this process. Glue ear may not clear as quickly as OME with a thinner effusion.

    OME is usually not life threatening. Most children do not have long-term damage to their hearing or speaking ability, even when the fluid remains for many months.

    When to Contact a Medical Professional

    Call your health care provider if:

    • You suspect you or your child might have otitis media with effusion. Continue to monitor the condition until the fluid has disappeared.
    • New symptoms develop during or after treatment for this disorder.


    Helping your child reduce the risk of ear infectionscan help prevent OME.


    American Academy of Family Physicians; American Academy of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery; American Academy of Pediatrics Subcommittee on Otitis Media With Effusion. Otitis media with effusion. Pediatrics. 2004;113:1412-1429.

    Paradise JL, Feldman HM, Campbell TF, Dollaghan CA, Rockette HE, Pitcairn DL, et al. Tympanostomy tubes and developmental outcomes at 9 to 11 years of age. N Engl J Med. 2007;356:248-261.


    • Ear anatomy


    • Middle ear infection (ot...


      • Ear anatomy


      • Middle ear infection (ot...


      A Closer Look

      Tests for Otitis media with effusion

        Review Date: 9/18/2012

        Reviewed By: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., and Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine.

        The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

        A.D.A.M. content is best viewed in IE9 or above, Fire Fox and chrome browser.

        Back  |  Top
        About Us
        Contact Us
        Locations & Directions
        Quality Reports
        Annual Reports
        Honors & Awards
        Community Health Needs

        Brain & Spine
        Sleep Medicine
        Urgent Care
        Women's Services
        All Services
        Patients & Visitors
        Locations & Directions
        Find a Physician
        Tour St. Luke's
        Patient & Visitor Information
        Contact Us
        Payment Options
        Financial Assistance
        Send a Card
        Mammogram Appointments
        Health Tools
        My Personal Health
        Spirit of Women
        Health Information & Tools
        Clinical Trials
        Health Risk Assessments
        Employer Programs -
        Passport to Wellness

        Classes & Events
        Classes & Events
        Spirit of Women
        Donate & Volunteer
        Giving Opportunities
        Physicians & Employees
        For Physicians
        Remote Access
        Medical Residency Information
        Pharmacy Residency Information
        Physician CPOE Training
        St. Luke's Hospital - 232 South Woods Mill Road - Chesterfield, MO 63017 Main Number: 314-434-1500 Emergency Dept: 314-205-6990 Patient Billing: 888-924-9200
        Copyright © St. Luke's Hospital Website Terms and Conditions  |  Privacy Policy  |  Notice of Privacy Practices PDF  |  Patient Rights PDF Sitemap St. Luke's Mobile