Glue Ear & Grommets

What is glue ear?

Glue ear is fluid in the middle ear (behind the ear drum) and is also known as Otitis Media with Effusion.

How could this glue affect my child?

When a middle ear infection or a head cold occurs, fluid is trapped in the middle ear. The fluid is thin at first, but if the middle ear stays inflamed the fluid can’t get out. This fluid may become thick, like glue.

Your child hears poorly through this thick fluid and may seem deaf or seem inattentive, off-balance or irritable. If this occurs then your child should see your family doctor.

The reason this build up of fluid affects your child’s hearing is that the middle ear doesn’t work normally. This is called a conductive hearing loss.

If untreated over a period of time, the hearing loss may affect your child’s speech development, understanding of language, reading and spelling. It may also weaken the ear drum and bones of hearing.

Glue Ear

Glue Ear (Notice the fluid/bubbles behind the ear drum)

What are grommets and how do they work?

Grommets are very small ventilation tubes made of plastic that are about 2mm in width. The grommet sits in the eardrum with one flange sitting on the inside and one on the outside of the eardrum. They are placed after a small incision is made in the eardrum with a general anaesthetic.

Grommets are ventilation tubes which have a small hole in the centre which allows air to enter the middle ear to keep it free of fluid.

Once air can enter the middle ear it helps to improve your child’s hearing by allowing the middle ear to function normally.

The ear drum will gradually push the grommet out after approx. 9-12 months, sealing itself as it does so. Most children’s hearing will recover fully. The fluid may come back in some children and further treatment may be needed. Some children (approximately 20%) need grommets again.

Grommet

Grommet in place

What do I need to know about grommets when at home?

Your child shouldn’t have too much pain after the operation. Iif they do have a lot of pain or discharge from the ear which continues for longer than a few days you should contact your doctor.

After your child has the grommets inserted you need to maintain “water precautions” until the grommets have come out of the ear drum and it is fully healed. It is very important that you keep dirty water out of the child’s middle ear while they have grommets. Dirty water is water that is hard to keep free from bacteria (example: heated pools, spas, rivers, creeks, lakes and dams).

Bath water is also dirty, so your child should wear ear plugs in the bath if they are going to put their head under water.

There are a few different things you can use as ear plugs:

  • Soft plastic plugs can be bought at our office
  • Silicone ear putty or Blu-Tack
  • Cotton wool smeared with Vaseline
  • Custom made ear plugs can also be used

It is important that if you use putty or blu-tack that you use a piece as big as your child’s outer ear and not a piece small enough to get stuck in the ear canal.

Can we still go swimming?

Yes, but not for the first 2 weeks after the operation. After that you should keep dirty water out of the child’s ears. When they are swimming they will need the ear plugs and a cap to hold the plugs in place while they swim.

What if water gets in my child’s ears while the grommets are there?

Chances are nothing will happen. But an ear infection can develop with discharge from the ear and hearing loss needing treatment with ear drops and possibly antibiotics.