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Information about this procedure is listed under the following headings:


Why do I need this operation?

What are the intended benefits of the surgery?

How is the surgery performed?

What are the potential risks and how great are these risks?

What am I to expect after the operation?

How long will I be off work/school?

Frequently asked Questions





Why do I need this operation?

Grommets are used most often to treat a condition known as glue ear. This is where a glue-like fluid has built up behind the ear drum, in the middle ear (see picture). This is often due to dysfuntion of the eustachian tube that balances the air pressure in the middle ear with the air pressure outside. A grommet is a small tube (see picture)that is inserted through the ear drum. Grommets are also used to treat patients who get very frequent ear infections or have retraction pockets in their ear drums.


Click here to download an information leaflet on glue ear. Compiled by Maria Pippias.





What are the intended benefits of the surgery?

The insertion of a grommet will allow the middle ear another source of ventillation and removal of fluid, apart from the eustachian tube and thus will remain dry, with an equal pressure on either side of the ear drum. This will prevent glue from building up and will improve hearing in those patients with glue ear. For those who have grommets for retraction pockets a grommet will prevent any pockets in the ear drum getting any larger.



How is the surgery performed?

Grommets are normally inserted under general anaesthetic. The surgeon uses a microscope to visualise the ear drum and make a small cut in it. Any glue is then suctioned out and a grommet is inserted through the hole. Sometimes antibiotic ear drops are then instilled into the ear canal.



What are the potential risks?

There are very few complications of the surgery.
1) Infection - Grommets may cause more frequent ear infections. About 10% of patients will get intermittent symptoms (normally associated with having a cold), 1% will have significant enough symptoms to require the removal of the grommet.
2) Perforation - most grommets will fall out on their own after nine to eighteen months. When they do, the ear drum heals up after them, but they may leave a small hole in the ear drum which may need to be fixed. 2 - 3% of patients will develop this complication.



What am I to expect after the operation?

This surgery is usually performed as a daystay procedure. There is normally only a mild earache, easily controlled with simple painkillers. There may be a bloodstained discharge after the procedure for a few days. If this persists, or turns foul-smelling, you need to contact the hospital. Strict water precautions should be applied for as long as the grommets are in place. NO WATER MUST BE ALLOWED TO ENTER THE EAR. This means during washing of hair or swimming, ear plugs should be worn. Diving under the surface when swimming is discouraged. While grommets are in place, routine follow-up in the ENT outpatient department is arranged.



How long will I be off work / school?

A day or two off school or work is sufficient. A doctor's note will be provided.



Frequently asked Questions

How do I waterproof my ears?

Cottonwool smeared with Vaseline is a good way to prevent soapy water from reaching the ear canal while washing. Earplugs are required when swimming.

What happens if the grommets fall out?

If the grommets fall out, the glue may come back (about a 25% chance) and more grommets may need to be put in. You will be assessed at the ENT outpatients before any decision is made.

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Last updated: 23 October 2004