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Having grommets fitted

Key points

  • Grommets are tiny plastic tubes that can be fitted into your child’s eardrum to treat glue ear.
  • Your doctor may recommend grommets if your child has problems with hearing or speech, or is getting lots of ear infections.
  • The procedure is usually carried out as a day-case – this means your child will go home on the same day.

This section contains answers to frequently asked questions about this topic. Questions have been suggested by health professionals, website feedback and requests via email.

How are grommets taken out?

Answer

Grommets don’t need to be removed. The grommets are left in the eardrums and as your child's eardrums grow, they push the grommets out naturally, usually over nine to 12 months.

Explanation

Grommets help to treat glue ear – a condition that occurs when fluid collects in the middle ear behind your eardrum. Grommets are fitted into your child’s eardrum so that air can get in and out of his or her ear. As your child’s eardrum grows, it pushes the grommet out. It usually takes nine to 12 months for the grommet to come out naturally, but it may be longer. When the grommet is out, the hole in your child’s eardrum usually closes up without treatment. His or her eardrum may have a small scar but this shouldn't affect hearing.

Can you fly with grommets?

Answer

Having grommets fitted won't stop your child from travelling by air.

Explanation

Grommets help to treat glue ear. Glue ear is a condition that occurs when fluid collects in the middle ear behind your eardrum. Grommets can be fitted into your child’s eardrum so that air can pass into his or her ear. It won't stop your child from travelling by air. In fact, the grommets will balance the air pressure in your child’s ear so he or she won't get any pain on take-off and landing.

What happens if my child's glue ear comes back after the grommet falls out?

Answer

A new grommet can be put in your child's ear if glue ear returns.

Explanation

Glue ear is a condition that occurs when fluid collects in the middle ear behind your eardrum. It is common in young children. Grommets can help treat glue ear, by allowing air to get in and out of the ear. A grommet usually stops working after around 10 months or falls out after nine to 12 months. Your child’s glue ear may come back when his or her grommet falls out – around a third to a half of children who have grommets will need new grommets fitted again within five years. Your surgeon may advise taking out your child’s adenoids at the same time as putting in grommets, to help get rid of his or her glue ear and reduce the risk of needing more grommets in the future.

What can I do to help my child recover quickly from grommet surgery?

Answer

Recovery is usually straightforward and most children have no problems after having grommets fitted. There are some steps you can take to reduce the risk of infection after the procedure.

Explanation

During a grommet operation, a small hole is made in your child's eardrum to fit the tube. The tube helps air pass in and out of the ear. Although ear infections after having grommets fitted are uncommon, there is always a small risk. For this reason, it's worth taking measures to reduce the risk of infection.

If your child's hearing problems were caused by glue ear, his or her hearing should return to normal immediately after having grommets fitted. Your child may complain that everything sounds very loud for a short while but this is to be expected. It may take a few days for your child to get used to the noise.

Water can’t usually get through the hole in the grommet, so it's safe for your child to go swimming a couple of weeks after a grommet operation. However, he or she shouldn't dive or swim underwater as this might increase the risk of water getting in the ear. Your surgeon may suggest that your child wears earplugs if your child swims often, to reduce the chance of infection.

You should take care not to get soapy or dirty water into your child's ears because this may pass through the hole in the grommet. It’s a good idea to use earplugs when you wash your child’s hair. You can make your own waterproof earplugs by covering cotton wool with petroleum jelly or buy earplugs from your chemist. You will need to take these precautions until the grommets fall out (usually after about nine to 12 months).

 

Produced by Pippa Coulter, Bupa Health Information Team, January 2013.

For our main content on this topic, see Information.

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  • This information was published by Bupa's Health Information Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition. The content is intended only for general information and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional. For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the about our health information page.

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