A frequent question the parents of a child with glue ear ask is ‘’ what is a grommet’’ or ‘’what does a grommet do’’.
Glue ear (referred to as otitis media with effusion among health care professionals) is when fluid is trapped in the middle ear. It frequently causes hearing loss which can affect school performance, speech development, behaviour and balance.
A grommet is tiny tube (see photo) measuring about 3mm in its longest dimension. It sits astride the ear drum and allows air at atmospheric pressure to flow through it into the middle ear. This helps the middle ear to maintain an atmospheric pressure which is necessary for the middle ear mechanism to work properly i.e. to enable your child to hear properly. When children have glue ear (i.e. fluid persistently trapped in the middle ear) the middle ear pressure is no longer atmospheric and the middle ear mechanism doesn’t work properly – hence the hearing loss.
When your child has been advised to have a grommet inserted, a little cut is made in the ear drum. The middle ear fluid is sucked out with a tiny hoover and a grommet is inserted into the cut to sit astride the ear drum. All of this is done under microscopic vision which magnifies the surgeon’s view to at least ten times. The grommet allows there to be atmospheric pressure in the middle ear, the hearing mechanism works better and your child no longer has the hearing loss for as long as the grommet is in place. Most children grow out of glue ear by the time the grommet falls out (anything from 6-24 months) but a few children may need the grommet to be inserted a second or even third time.
Hearing aids or auto-inflation (using the Otovent) are an alternative to have grommets inserted although some parents don’t like the idea of their child using a hearing aid if there is the option of having a grommet inserted.