Between the ages of six months and two years, many children go through reoccurring cycles of ear infections, known as glue ear, which can cause pain, loss of appetite, fever, hearing loss and sleepless nights. In order to combat this, your child may need a grommet inserted into his ear, to relieve the pain and return hearing.
What causes glue ear?
Glue ear is a very common condition found in around 70 percent of children. It occurs when the Eustachian tube, which runs from the back of the nose to the middle ear, is too narrow to drain properly. When this happens, sticky fluid builds up in the middle ear, especially after an infection, leaving the child semi-deaf and in pain, and prone to more infection.
What are grommets?
Grommets are tiny ventilation tubes made out of plastic that are about 2mm wide. The grommet is placed in the eardrum with one flange sitting on the inside and one on the outside of the eardrum.
Grommets have several names, but they all work in the same way to allow air into the middle ear. Some of the other names used for this very effective “hearing aid” are ventilation tubes, drainage tubes, Sheppard’s tubes, Collar button tubes and T- tubes. There are several others, so ask your doctor for more information regarding the various shapes and sizes.
How do they work?
Grommets have a small hole in the middle which enables air to enter the middle ear to remove fluid. When air can enter the middle ear, it helps to improve your child’s hearing by allowing the tiny bones of hearing to move freely again.
After three-eighteen months, the grommets will gradually fall out of the drum. At this time the child’s hearing will recover fully. The fluid may come back in some children and further treatment will be needed – which may include refitting new grommets.
How are they inserted?
Your child will need to go into the hospital to have the grommets put in. The procedure only takes a day, so your child won’t need to stay over for the night.
It is important that they don’t eat or drink anything before the operation. Your child will be given an anaesthetic to put them into a deep sleep so that they don’t feel any pain during the operation. Your child will be able to go home within a few hours after the operation, once they have woken up from the anaesthetic and have had some fluids.
What happens after the operation?
Your child shouldn’t experience any pain after the operation. If they do, you should contact a doctor, or if discharge from the ear continues for more than five days.
You need to be careful that water does not get into the ears, until the grommets have come out of the ear drum and it is fully healed.
Dirty water from the bath, from heated pools, spas, rivers and lakes also needs to be kept away from the ear.
It’s best to shower after the operation to prevent this from happening. If this is not possible then earplugs should be used.
Your child can go swimming, but this should not happen in the first week after the operation. If swimming at the beach, there is no need for special care, but if swimming in other places, ear plugs must be used and should be supported with a swimming cap or an ear wrap-type headband.
What if water gets into my child’s ears while the grommets are in?
Chances are nothing will happen, however an ear infection can develop. This will be seen as discharge (fluid) coming from the ear, which will require treatment with ear drops. Your child should not swim until the infection is gone.
Children with fitted grommets need to have their ears checked regularly to see if the grommets are still in the ear drum and still working.