What are grommets?

Grommets are also called ventilation tubes and are small tubes which are inserted into the ear drums to allow air to pass through them.

Why are they used?

The most common reason to place grommets is for glue ear or frequent ear infections, usually in kids but adults can also be affected. They may also be placed in other conditions due to poor eustachian tube function such as retracted ear drums.

What does the surgery involve?

In kids, the surgery is performed under a general anaesthetic as day surgery, and may be combined with other surgery such as adenoidectomy or adenotonsillectomy. In adults it can be done under general or local anaesthetic.

Usually the grommets remain in place for around 6-12 months and then fall out. However, it is quite variable and there are also different designs of grommet which should stay in for shorter or longer periods of time.

What are the risks?

Blocked grommet or early extrusion – if the grommet becomes blocked or falls out early there is a higher chance of the original problem recurring.

Ear discharge – if an infection occurs while the grommet is in place, the ear will discharge. This may occur with colds and viral infections, or can be related to swimming. If it occurs, it should be treated, usually with prescription ear drops from your GP or ENT surgeon.

Persistent perforation – usually when the grommet extrudes the hole heals, but there is a small risk that the hole fails to heal. If this occurs and doesn’t heal over time it can generally be repaired surgically, but in children not usually before the age of 8.

Retained grommet – occasionally the grommet doesn’t come out and if they are in for more than about 2 years or causing problems they may need to be removed.

Swimming with grommets

There is a risk that water can get through the grommet into the middle ear and cause an infection resulting in infection and ear discharge. However, the hole in the grommet is small and most kids are able to swim without the need for ear plugs, particularly younger kids. If your child has repeated episodes of ear discharge from swimming, they will need to wear ear plugs and usually a head band or cap to keep them in.