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Key facts

  • Grommets are tiny tubes that are inserted into the eardrum to drain fluid
  • They are used after repeated ear infections that cause ‘glue ear’.
  • Grommets are inserted during minor surgery but under general anaesthetic.
  • They usually fall out naturally after 6 to 12 months.

What are grommets?

Grommets are tiny tubes that are surgically inserted into the eardrums to treat a build-up of thick, sticky fluid in the middle ear. This condition is known as glue ear.

Grommets can be made of plastic or metal. They don’t hurt, and they allow air to enter the middle ear and drain the fluid to the back of the nose and throat.

Grommets are also known as tympanostomy tubes or ventilation tubes.

What is glue ear?

Middle ear infections that keep coming back can lead to glue ear.

Glue ear is a common childhood condition, but it can also affect adults. In someone who has glue ear, the eustachian tube that connects the middle ear to the back of the throat is unable to drain excess middle ear fluid. This fluid builds up and becomes thick and ‘gluggy’ over time. Glue ear can lead to trouble with hearing, balance problems and ongoing irritability.

When are grommets used?

Grommets might be recommended for glue ear that has lasted and causes significant hearing loss. Grommets may also be recommended for repeated ear infections.

How are grommets inserted?

Grommets are inserted during a minor surgical procedure known as ‘myringotomy’. The procedure is done under general anaesthetic, so if your child that needs grommets, they won’t feel anything. You should be able to take them home the same day.

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What should I expect after surgery?

A hearing test soon after the surgery will confirm that hearing has been restored. Hearing is usually restored quickly after grommets have been inserted. If hearing is not back to normal, the child may need further tests.

It is normal for there to be a small amount of oozing or bleeding from the ear for a day or 2 after surgery.

Mild pain after surgery can be relieved using over-the-counter pain relief such as paracetamol. Follow the instructions on the package.

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How do I look after my child’s grommets?

One of the complications of grommets is ear infection from water, especially if it is dirty. Water can enter the middle ear cavity, so it is best to keep the ears dry until the grommets fall out and the eardrums heal. Follow your surgeon’s instructions on how to protect your child’s ears from water while the grommets are in place.

Can grommets fall out?

Grommets usually fall out naturally within 6 to 12 months, depending on the size, shape and material of the grommet. Regular ear checks will help monitor for when the grommets have fallen out.

The hole in the eardrum will usually heal quickly after the grommet falls out. In some children the fluid may build up again causing glue ear and re-insertion of grommets tubes might be needed.

Once the grommet falls out the hole in the eardrum will usually heal quickly. In some children the fluid may build up again causing glue ear and re-insertion of grommets tubes might be needed.

Contact your doctor if there is a lot of pain, or if the oozing or bleeding continues for more than 5 days. There could be an ear infection or a small tear in the eardrum.

Your child should:

  • avoid swimming for one week after the surgery
  • use earplugs, swimming caps or ear wraps when bathing, showering and swimming
  • have a hearing test soon after the surgery to check for improvement if they experienced hearing loss as a result of glue ear

Resources and support

If you need to know more about grommets, and to get advice on what to do next, call healthdirect on 1800 022 222 to speak with a registered nurse, 24 hours, 7 days a week (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria).

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Last reviewed: April 2020

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