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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 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.

When are grommets used?

Grommets might be recommended if you or your child has had repeated ear infections complicated by glue ear for at least 3 months. This may have lead to trouble hearing, balance problems or ongoing irritability. They might also be recommended if you have had repeated ear infections since they usually reduce the incidence of infections occuring.

What is glue ear?

Glue ear is a common childhood condition although it can also affect adults. In someone who has glue ear, the eustachian tube which 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.

If glue ear lasts for longer than 3 months and causes significant hearing loss it is usually treated with grommets. Grommets are also known as ventilation tubes, drainage tubes, Shepard’s tubes, Collar button tubes or T-tubes .

How are grommets inserted?

Grommets are inserted duringa minor surgical procedure known as ‘myringotomy’. The procedure is done under general anaesthetic, so if it's your child that needs grommets, they won’t feel anything and you should be able to take them home the same day. The build-up of fluid is suctioned out before the grommets are inserted so hearing is generally quickly restored.

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What should I expect after surgery?

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

Mild pain after surgery can be relieved using over-the-counter pain relief such as paracetamol. Pain relief should be administered following 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. 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 five days. There could be an ear infection or a small tear in the eardrum.

Your child should:

  • avoid swimming for 1 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.

Other questions you might have

How long do grommets stay in the ear?

Grommets usually stay in the ear for 6 to 12 months and fall out naturally. Regular ear checks will help to monitor for when the grommets have fallen out.

How long does it take for grommets to work?

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

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.

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Last reviewed: March 2018

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