What are grommets?
Grommets are tiny plastic tubes that sit into the ear drum. They are also called ventilation tubes or tubes.
Why do people get grommets?
People get grommets to get rid of fluid behind the ear drum (glue ear, middle ear effusion). Some people also get grommets to prevent middle ear infections.
What is glue ear?
Glue ear is fluid behind the ear drum in the middle ear. It is also called a middle ear effusion or chronic suppurative otitis media with effusion. The fluid reduces the hearing usually by about 10-15 dB. This makes it hard to hear clearly and because of this sometimes speech is unclear. Children learn to speak by copying what they hear and they are not hearing clearly then they may not speak clearly.
How are grommets inserted?
In children grommets are inserted under general anaesthesia. In adults grommets are usually inserted under local anaesthesia. Under the operating microscope a tiny incision in made in the ear drum. Any fluid is sucked out. The grommet is inserted so that one side of it is in the middle ear and the other side is in the ear canal next to the ear drum.
What happens afterwards?
Usually your surgeon will prescribe ear drops for a few days and advise you to keep water out of the ears for a few days.
Can I swim with grommets in place?
Yes. Most people with grommets can swim without developing ear problems. If you do decide to go swimming stay on the surface as swimming down under the surface of the water can force water through the tiny hole into the middle ear. A few people with grommets develop a discharging ear after swimming. For these few people ear plugs may help or if that does not help they may need to refrain from swimming.
Are there any problems with grommets?
Not usually. Sometimes there can be discharge from an ear with a grommet. This usually settles down quickly with an antibiotic / steroid ear drop. Sometimes when the grommet falls out a small perforation of the ear drop can be left behind. If the perforation does not heal spontaneously then your surgeon can usually fix the perforation with an operation.
How long do grommets last?
Grommets last on average about 12 months although there is a wide range from just a few months to never falling out.
What happens when the grommet falls out?
Usually the ear drum seals over and the original problem resolves. As children grow older most children grow out of their middle ear problems. If the problem recurs then a second set of grommets may be required.