A grommet is a small metal or plastic tube around 2mm wide. It is surgically inserted into the eardrum to reduce pressure caused by fluid build up in the middle ear behind the eardrum (this can be pus or clear fluid).
In addition a grommet will allow air to pass freely between the middle and the outer ear where the Eustachian tube (which connects the middle ear to the back of the nose) is blocked and there is no way of equalising air pressure in the middle ear.
Grommets are primarily used to treat Recurrent Acute Otitis Media or 'Glue Ear' (see our section on ear diseases and infections for more information on these conditions) where either condition has lasted for longer than around 12 weeks and/or a child has experienced hearing problems.
Grommets are largely needed by children but there are some adult conditions where grommets can help alleviate symptoms, for example Meniere's Disease, which is a buildup of fluid in the inner ear.
Although the common term for these devices is 'grommets', you may also hear them referred to by other names, such as 'ventilation tubes', 'drainage tubes' or 'tympanomasty tubes'.
Grommets are inserted in a quick 15 minute procedure (medical name - myringotomy) under general anaesthesia. During the surgery a small incision is made to the eardrum and the grommets are put in place once any discharge or fluid has been removed by suction. The grommets then remain in place for anything from 6 months to two years and generally fall out as the hole in the eardrum closes naturally.
Since it is such a quick procedure, the patient can go home on the same day. It is important however to make sure the grommets are protected from infection. This means not swimming for at least a week after the procedure and using earplugs when swimming or taking a shower or a bath.
If the insertion of the grommets was related to hearing issues, hearing is generally tested shortly after surgery to check for improvement.
If you would like to find out more about grommets, please contact Dr Chang.