What is glue ear?
Glue ear is a common childhood condition in which sticky fluid builds up in the middle ear.
It can be caused by ear infections, cigarette smoke or allergies but not by too much earwax or water in the ear after swimming.
Glue ear is known by doctors as otitis media with effusion. And grommets are often called ear tubes.
Glue ear treatments
Usually glue ear improves on its own. But if it doesn’t, it can cause hearing problems.
The options for treating glue ear include:
- wait and see
- antibiotics for about two weeks
- surgery to insert grommets.
What are grommets?
Grommets are little tubes that are inserted into the eardrums to treat middle ear conditions.
Grommets can be made of plastic or metal. They don’t hurt. They allow air to enter the middle ear and drain the fluid to the back of the nose and throat.
When are grommets used and how?
Grommets might be recommended if you or your child has had glue ear for at least 3 months and has trouble hearing. They might also be recommended for repeated ear infections.
They are inserted during minor surgery called ‘myringotomy’. It takes about 15 minutes and is done under general anaesthetic, so your child won’t feel anything. Hearing is generally restored quickly afterwards.
Grommets usually fall out naturally within 6 to 12 months, leaving the eardrum unharmed.
Complications of grommets
It is normal for there to be a small amount of oozing or bleeding from the ear for a day or two after surgery.
Contact your doctor if there is a lot of pain, or if the oozing or bleeding continues for more than five days. There could be an ear infection or a small tear in the eardrum.
Caring for a child with grommets
One of the complications of grommets is ear infection, so it is best to keep the ears dry. Your child should:
- avoid swimming for a week after the surgery
- use earplugs when bathing, showering and swimming.
Grommets for adults
Adults can also develop glue ear, and may also require insertion of grommets.
Last reviewed: February 2016