Glue ear, or chronic secretory otitis media, is a common problem in children. However it can affect hearing and lead to a host of complications if left untreated. Despite regular medical treatment, glue ear has a tendency to recur, especially in children, and ear grommets may be needed to reduce the chances of complications.
The middle ear is the area behind the ear drum (tympanic membrane). In glue ear, the middle ear which is usually filled with air becomes congested with a sticky, glue-like fluid. This fluid dampens the vibrations produced by sound and affects hearing. The only drainage area would be through the Eustachian tube, a narrow canal connecting the middle ear to the back of the throat. If this tube is blocked, another route for drainage has to be created.
An ear grommet is inserted in the ear drum and is a tiny tube that allows fluid to drain out into the outer ear. Grommets also help stabilise the pressure between the air in the middle ear and outside environment. A grommet should be inserted by an ENT (ear, nose and throat) specialist. It will remain in place for 3 to 6 months and usually fall off on its own as the ear drum heals.
Many parents are concerned about using ear grommets believing that it will cause long term damage to the ear drum. This is incorrect. The ear drum heals rapidly, especially in children, and any ‘hole’ created for the insertion of a grommet will heal completely.
Without a grommet, your child’s intellectual and social development can be severely hampered. Glue ear not only affects the hearing but can lead to secondary ear infections. These infections may cause vertigo (dizziness), pain, tinnitus and if left untreated, these infections can damage surrounding structures.