Ear grommets in children are actually plastic tubes that are placed into a small slit inside the eardrum. These grommets help fresh air to enter the middle ear and keep it free from fluid accumulation. The following article will cover some important information related to ear grommets and help you understand its medical use.
Ears help us hear. They are not just the visible pinna that we see, but is divided into the outer ear, middle ear and the inner ear. The middle ear is the space that is filled with air. This air is replaced all the time, the minute one swallows something. The Eustachian tube is connected to the nose and thus, the air is replaced. However, due to poor functioning of the Eustachian tube or an infection, presence of irritants or adenoid enlargement, fluid builds up instead of air in the middle ear. This condition is known as glue ear. In order to treat glue ear, doctors suggest placing ear grommets. We shall discuss ear grommets in children in the following paragraphs and even have a look at what is glue ear.
What is Glue Ear?
Glue ear is a condition where fluid builds up in the middle ear, just behind the eardrum. The middle ear ‘sweats’ fluid continuously. Whenever, one swallows or yawns, the fluid is emptied from the ear. If one suffers from a bad head cold or ear infection, they feel quite heavy in the ear. This is because the fluid is not able to drain off properly. The fluid is thin initially, but if it accumulates for a long time and is not able to drain out, it turns very thick. The presence of thick fluid appears like glue which is why it’s known as glue ear.
It is very important to get glue ear treated in children. If one observes ear pain in children or the child is inattentive, remains off-balance, irritable and may even appear slightly deaf, it is a sign of an ear problem. When the glue builds up in the ear, it affects the tiny bones that help in hearing. The thick fluid also affects the movement of the eardrum. Thus, a child suffers from conductive hearing loss. If left untreated it could affect the child’s hearing ability, speech and language development as well as academic problems.
How do Ear Grommets in Children Help?
After proper diagnosis, the doctor may prescribe medication and antibiotics and wait for a few weeks for the fluid to dry up on its own. However, when this does not happen, ear grommets are suggested. Grommets are tiny plastic tube structures that look like a cotton reel. A small surgery will be conducted to place the grommets in the ear. These structures are very tiny, about 2mm wide. They serve as plastic ventilation tubes. They are placed in a slit on the eardrum as it helps circulation of air around the middle ear.
A grommet does not drain the fluid out, but helps let air into the middle ear. The normal middle ear pressure is maintained by the grommets by allowing air into the space. This helps in reducing the build up of excessive fluid. If there is an ear infection, the pus accumulated starts draining out of the ear through the grommet. The child feels less ear pain and starts to hear normally very soon. Ear grommets are also known as Shepard’s tubes, ventilation tubes, collar button tubes, drainage tubes and T-tubes. Thus, if you hear a new name used by your child’s doctor, make sure you ask him if he is talking about grommets.
What Happens to the Child During Surgery?
This is a minor surgery, where the child will be placed under general anesthesia. Then, the surgeon will make a small slit in the eardrum. The grommet will be inserted into this slit to help ventilate the middle ear. The entire process will take just about 10 to 15 minutes to be completed. Soon, when the child is wide awake from the anesthesia, the doctor will allow the child to go home. You will notice an immediate improvement in the child’s hearing after the surgery. Some discharge maybe observed, but this is usually normal. This ear discharge is treated with the help of some ear drops.
Ear grommets stay in place for about 6 to 18 months. They generally come out on their own. The slit in the eardrums also heals itself. However, sometimes, if the grommet does not come out on its own and the slit does not heal, another minor surgery maybe performed to remove the grommet and stitch back the small slit. Once a grommet is placed in the child’s ear, make sure you never let water enter the middle ear. Use ear plugs, a swimming cap, an ear wrap or silicone putty to protect the child’s ear from getting wet when bathing or swimming. Or else, it will make the middle ear prone to bacterial infections. Speak to an ENT surgeon about ear grommets in children and get all your doubts cleared, before you seek this treatment.