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Grommet Surgery

This information has been written to help answer some of your questions about the operation of grommet insertion. If you are still in doubt as to what is intended, after reading it, please do not hesitate to ask.

What is a grommet?

A grommet is a tiny (1.5mm) plastic tube shaped like a cotton reel which is inserted into a small slit in the ear drum (called a myringotomy) in order to allow air into the middle ear. Such an operation is usually performed if a child has glue ear or repeated middle ear infections. Any fluid present in the middle ear is removed at the time of the surgery.

Recurrent Ear Infections

Ear infections are common and are usually not serious. However, if they are recurrent, grommets may be recommended as they can help reduce the frequency of infection or make the symptoms less problematic by allowing the ear to drain.

The Operation

Your child will have to stop eating and drinking for a few hours before the operation. My secretary will go over the exact details and you will also be given a letter confirming everything. My anaesthetist will see you on the day of the surgery and explain the process of getting your child to sleep. He has a website which you may find helpful. The procedure itself will take about 10 to 15 minutes.

What happens after the grommet procedure?

After the operation, your child will go to the recovery area for a short time and then you will be called to come and take them back to the ward with one of the nurses. They may feel a bit tired or nauseous but after a few hours they should be able to go home. Grommet insertion is not particularly painful but taking paracetamol (calpol) for a day or so should settle any discomfort. Children can eat and drink whatever they like and can go back to school or nursery the next day. If your child has had another procedure too (such as adenoidectomy or tonsillectomy), please look at the post-operative instructions for those as they are different.

You will be given some antibiotic eardrops to use after the operation. These may say ‘eye drops’ on the bottle. This is because they are a safe type of medication to use with grommets. There may be small amounts of fluid coming from the ear for several days after the surgery. This may be slightly blood stained which is normal. If it persists, please contact my office. I would like you to keep all water out of the ears until you come to see me 2 weeks after the operation. I would suggest a piece of cotton wool coated in Vaseline in each ear for bath time. After that, it is only soapy water that needs to be kept out of the ears and so more cotton wool and Vaseline or commercially bought earplugs should be used for hair washing.

Is it all right to swim with grommets in the ears?

Yes. Swimming, even without ear plugs, has not been shown to cause ear infections in children with grommets. Diving and swimming deep underwater without earplugs should be avoided if possible, as these activities can cause some irritation.

What happens if the ear gets infected?

An infection in the ear can sometimes develop with grommets. This either spreads from the nose via the Eustachian tube or directly down the ear canal. It normally causes a mild earache and discharge. The discharge can be thick, sticky and smelly. If this happens, treatment with antibiotic ear drops may be required. Please call the office for advice or, if more convenient, your GP.

Can my child fly with grommets?

Flying with grommets is perfectly safe and the ears should be pain free as they are being ventilated properly.

What happens to the grommets?

Grommets stay in for a varying length of time but most fall out between 6 to 12 months after being put in. They usually become attached to wax and fall out of their own accord. It is important to check that the eardrum has healed up properly behind the grommet and that the glue or infections have not recurred. For this reason, I like to see patients with a new hearing test every six months after surgery. The majority of children grow out of their ear problems but there are a small number who may need a second set of grommets placed.