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Glue Ear - the ups and downs
by Elaine and Jamie Sanderson

Ollie was diagnosed with a conductive hearing loss (moderate level) in both ears after a health visitor check. They realised that Ollie was lip reading and if we covered our mouths he couldn’t follow basic instructions.  Following ENT advice he had his first set of grommets when he was 4, they also removed his adenoids as it was considered this might be contributing to the problem. We remember so clearly him walking on the grass the afternoon after his operation asking why his feet made a noise on the grass and jumping up and down on the decking because it made a new sound. He was thrilled with his new hearing and finally the volume on the telly could go down. Ollie was already a keen swimmer so we had a special set of ear moulds made to stop the pool water going in and potentially causing infections. We were conscious of the conflict between ENT suggesting he shouldn’t swim and the benefits that he gained from the experience.

Ollie with his brothers Zac and Finn

This success with the grommets was fairly short lived, the grommets fell out, one within a few weeks the other within 6 months. Our ENT consultant always explained that the glue ear would eventually go with age so we held on for 6 months but Ollies hearing again deteriorated and he had another set of grommets, these failed again as they fell out within months of each other.

He had his 3rd set of grommets in year 1 at school, again really unsuccessful which was disappointing. After 3 sets of grommets Ollies ear drums were quite scarred and thin so we asked if Ollie could have bilateral hearing aids. It was never offered to us as an option before but it was the best move we could have made, his learning accelerated quickly, his speech improved along with the help of the S&LS, and he coped really well with them.

Ollie was not a confident boy and he was really anxious that his aids couldn’t be seen, he always opted for clear moulds so they weren’t visible, he also kept his hair long to cover his aids. He told only a select few children about his hearing loss. The DDCS were brilliant at this point, we had a few days out with other children with a variety of hearing impairment and Ollie first met other children with hearing aids and was comforted to see that he was not alone. We also met Ken Tucker from the HSS who was Ollie’s hero and voice; he helped Ollie make a PowerPoint to show the class about his hearing loss and helped explain to the class about how things sound for him. It was a shame that the support from DCC didn’t come sooner, especially helping the teachers understand his needs, but he could only access that support when he was fitted with hearing aids.

Ollie started making friends outside of school and his sport was key for him, he found school difficult but excelled in Swimming and Biathlon. He really benefitted from the feeling of success so as parents we encouraged him to pursue his sport further. Ollie became more confident and began taking part in swimming competitions and Biathlons, the swimming coaches at West Dorset Swimming Club and Pentathlon GB were always really supportive and in competitions they encouraged Ollie to have someone tap him on the back to start him if he couldn’t hear the starter. 

We continued going to Audiology and every time we asked the same question, ‘when will Ollie’s glue ear go?’ ‘How long is a piece of string’ was invariably the answer. Most young people grow out of it by the time they are 8 or 9.

As Ollie got older we had weeks where the hearing was good and Ollie would need to turn down the volume on his aid and days where it seemed like the settings were too quiet, it was always tricky to gauge. It was about his time that our youngest son Zac was also diagnosed with glue ear too.

Swimming in Crystal Palace for the school's Biathlon

Just before Christmas in year 6 aged 10 we had the great news that Ollie’s hearing had improved and his levels were on the bottom edge of normal so he returned to school the following day unaided.  Ollie thought this was fantastic but actually being unaided made learning new terminology hard and navigating playground games really tricky. All went well until he got a summer cold, when his hearing plummeted, we got in touch with audiology, however by the time we had an appointment his hearing was pretty much back to the level as before, they suggested he used his aids if his hearing deteriorated. Ollie was not up for this at all and refused to wear his aids. This was fine in a small primary school but when he moved to a secondary school in the September he really struggled with the transition.

In his Secondary school he found the change in environment really hard, whether this was hearing related we aren’t sure. He found it hard to secure relationships with his peers and a couple of times it appeared that Ollie had been spoken to fairly harshly by teachers for not paying attention or ignoring instructions. Ollie never liked to draw attention to himself and therefore he hadn’t spoken to those teachers about his fluctuating loss, so we took a new approach and were much more proactive, we kept in touch with his tutor by email and as soon as Ollie had a cold we contacted her to spread the word that his hearing was down, this really helped Ollie in all his subjects but he still struggled to make new friendships and was unfortunately the victim of cyber bullying due to his sporting success.

With the difficulties he faced in school Ollie vented his frustration in his sports, by 12 years old he was competing nationally in Triathlon and Biathlon. Ollie felt ready for a fresh start and opted to move to a Dorchester school in Year 9.

Ollie in his first Tetrathlon

So Ollie is now nearly 14 at Thomas Hardye School and his glue ear is still there, the pattern continues of weeks of good hearing and then periods of not hearing a conversation when we are sat round the kitchen table. We continue to let school know every time his hearing deteriorates and Ollie now informs his teacher himself. Ollie has been more open with his new friends about his hearing loss, he still miss hears and takes things the wrong way but he now has a network of more understanding friends. Gradually we are picking up the misconceptions Ollie has learned through his former years, just this year he realised broccoli was not spelt or said as ‘procollii’.  We are still waiting for him to ‘grow out of’ glue ear. Ollie is hoping to be a Sports Physiotherapist or PE Teacher, which is great if he can inspire others to overcome adversity.

From our experience with Ollie and his glue ear we chose for our youngest son Zac not to have grommets when he was diagnosed with glue ear in year 1, age 5, he has a hearing aid in just one ear and he has had his aid for 4 years, he loves multi-coloured ear moulds, sparkly red Christmas ones were his favourite and is proud to have had aids like his brother, despite glue ear being a non-hereditary condition we have 3 boys all of which have had various levels of conductive hearing loss.

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