What are grommets and why might your child need them?

Posted in Family Health.

Lots of little ones need grommets in their ears because of glue ear.

Here’s what they are, what you need to know about grommet insertion surgery and when to ask your GP for a referral to an ear, nose and throat specialist for your child.

What is glue ear?

Glue ear happens when fluid builds up in your child’s middle ear, behind her eardrum. It is not caused by wax or from water getting in the ear.

Glue ear is common in kids and often goes away without needing surgery.

If it doesn’t though, glue ear can cause hearing loss and repeated earaches or infections that arise thanks to discharge from the ear.

Why do kids get ear problems

The eustachian tubes (these connect the middle ear to the back of the throat) are smaller in little ones. As such, they often gets blocked leading to infections and other issues.

Insertion of grommets is the preferred treatment for chronic cases of glue ear.

When is grommet surgery recommended?

If your child has had glue ear for longer than three months and there is subsequent hearing loss impacting their learning and development, then your GP may suggest you see an ear, nose and throat specialist (ENT).

He or she will chat with you about the potential need for grommet insertion surgery.

Why surgery

A grommet is a tiny plastic or metal tube.

Putting grommets in a child with glue ear allows the air to enter the middle ear, stopping the build-up of fluid from causing glue ear.

As a result, hearing is restored or improved.

What happens in grommet insertion surgery

Your little one is first put under general anaesthetic (sometimes gas is given so your child goes off to sleep first before a cannula is put in, making it painless).

Then the ENT surgeon makes a small hole in your child’s eardrum and sucks out the fluid – the procedure is called a myringotomy.

Next, the grommet is placed in the hole.

The actual procedure only takes around 20 minutes or less, but your child may spend an hour or two in recovery.

How long is recovery

Grommet insertion surgery is a day procedure, so your child will be able to go home the same day.

Are there complications?

Like all surgery, there can be complications with grommet insertion surgery. These include:

  • Pain
  • Bleeding
  • Fluid leaking from the ear
  • Ear discharge
  • Small hole left in the eardrum after the grommet falls out
  • Repeated build-up of fluid in the middle ear

Grommets fall out

Over time the grommets will fall out. This is because the body will naturally reject them.

The time it takes for this to happen will vary, depending on the material and design of the grommet.

Your ENT will get your child to come back for checks to monitor how the grommets are going and if they have fallen out.

If they have fallen out, your ENT will discuss with you if they are still needed.

Careful of water

The only thing that’s annoying for a parent about having a child with grommets, is you need to be careful water doesn’t get in. This just means inserting ear plugs (your ENT can make custom ones to fit snugly in your child’s ear) before they go swimming, and maybe securing these with a headband or swimming cap.


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