Grommets are small plastic tubes that are inserted into your child's middle ear via their ear drum. They are used to treat glue ear that hasn't resolved on its own within a few months. This is a middle ear infection that's common in preschool children and leads to temporary hearing loss. The middle ear fills with fluid, typically after a cold or virus, and is unable to drain due to the tube that links the ear to the throat being blocked. This prevents sound reaching the inner ear, and over time, young children with glue ear can struggle to reach speech development milestones and become socially withdrawn. If an audiologist has diagnosed your child with glue ear and recommends grommets, you'll be pleased to know your child's hearing loss will resolve once the fluid is drained from the middle ear.
Your child will have grommets placed in their ear under general anaesthetic. The procedure is carried out as a day case, and a small incision will be made in their ear drum. Fluid is drained from the middle ear, a topical antibiotic is administered and the grommets are inserted to allow air to move freely around the middle ear and allow any additional build-up of fluid to drain out of your child's ear.
Grommets will stay in place until the ear drum begins to heal, at which point they will simply fall out and your child should have a healthy, clear middle ear. You may notice a blood-stained discharge around your child's outer ear for a few days after the grommets are inserted, and this is typically harmless and a result of the trauma to the ear drum. However, if your child has a fever, they should be assessed by your audiologist or GP.
When grommets are in place, water can flow into your child's middle ear, and this can leave them susceptible to ear infections caused by bacteria in the water. For this reason, it's best not to allow your child to go swimming while they have grommets, particularly in unchlorinated water. When bathing your child, take extra care not to get water in their ears. Wash their hair first, use clean water to rinse their hair and use a shower cap to cover their ears for the remainder of their bath time.
Hearing loss can impact your child's self-confidence and build up negative associations with learning environments if they are unable to keep up with their peers. So, if your child has ear pain, balance problems or apparent selective hearing, schedule a hearing test with an audiologist as soon as possible.