What are Ear Grommets? Drainage Tube for Glue Ear

An ear grommet is a tiny tube inserted into the tympanic membrane (ear drum) to drain fluid and relieve air pressure differences between the middle ear (behind the ear drum) and outer ear or ear canal. Ear grommets are an integral part to treating ‘glue ear’ which is prevalent in children. Glue ear is a common term for ear disorders that cause a sticky fluid build up behind the ear drum, like otitis media.

Why are ear grommets needed?

Reasons for Ear Grommet

In many ear disorders, fluid build up may occur within the cavity of the middle ear. This may be a result of infection or inflammation. Usually this fluid is able to drain out through the Eustachian tube, a narrow canal that connects the middle ear to the back of the throat.

This tube also allows for the air pressure between each side of the tympanic membrane to be balanced. When the Eustachian tube gets blocked, it cannot ensure the balanced air pressure or an outlet for fluid and mucus in the middle ear. This build up can cause the ear drum to bulge or in cases where the middle ear air pressure becomes too low, the ear drum may become inverted. Either way, this affects the flexibility of the ear drum to vibrate with sound and hampers the three small bones of hearing (hammer, anvil, stirrup) from transmitting vibrations. This decreased ability is seen as a loss of hearing or even deafness in children.

A grommet bypasses the need for a clear and functioning Eustachian tube by creating a minute canal between the middle and outer ear. Inserted into the ear drum, a grommet is like a plug with a tiny hold in it that allows air and fluid to travel from the middle ear into the outer ear. It balances the air pressure and clears any difficulty for the movement of the ear drum and bones of hearing.

What will happen without an ear grommet?

Complications without an Ear Grommet

Ear Grommet Diagram from mydr.com.au
Ear Grommet Diagram from mydr.com.au

Treatment is dependent on the condition that is contributing to the glue ear. If untreated, a chronic infection and inflammation can initially cause dizziness (vertigo), loss of balance especially in children (seen as repeated falls), headaches and reduced sense of hearing. With time, an untreated infection can cause necrosis of surrounding ear tissue, leading to tinnitus (ringing in the ear), deafness and spreading into the blood stream resulting in blood poisoning (septicemia) or affecting the skull bone and brain. Ear grommets are not the only therapy and antibiotics or corticosteroid (tablets or ear packs) may also be necessary. However ear grommets often prevents acute infections and inflammation from progressing to more serious states where drug therapy or more invasive procedures may be required.

How to insert and remove and ear grommet?

Ear Grommet Insertion and Removal

An ear grommet is inserted by an ENT (ear, nose and throat) specialist, also known as an otolaryngologist. Grommets are usually intended to stay in place for long periods of time, like 3 to 6 months or even longer if necessary. In most cases, the ear drum heals so efficiently that it will expel the ear grommet on its own. Alternatively, you may consult with your doctors for further advice and removal.

How to care for an ear with a grommet?

Ear Grommet – Care and Precautions

You will not be able to feel or see an ear grommet but if fitted by a skilled medical professional, it should stay firmly in position for many months without an discomfort. However extra care and caution has to be exercised. Avoid swimming or bathing in a tub where water may get into the ear. If you opt to swim, use properly fitting ear plugs that will give a tight fit. Surface swimming is allowed after the first two weeks without needing an ear plug but rather be cautious and use ear plugs. When washing the hair, ear plugs should also be used or cotton wool coated with petroleum jelly may offer a ‘quick fix’ replacement for an ear plug.

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