Glue ear is a build-up of sticky fluid in the ear, which can affect hearing. It is very common in children. Inserting grommets (tiny plastic tubes shaped like cotton reels) through the eardrum, which let air pass into the ear and allow fluid to drain, can help people with glue ear to hear better.
Glue ear is a build-up of sticky fluid in the middle ear, which stops the eardrum letting sound through properly.
According to clinical sources, about eight in every 10 children will have had glue ear at least once by the time they are 10 years old.
The most common symptom of glue ear is pain or hearing loss in one or both ears. Kids can't articulate what's bothering them as easily as grown-ups so you they might not say anything to you. You might notice them being more irritable because they are struggling to hear, have trouble taking part in conversations, or keep turning up the TV volume.
When children have a cold or infection, they often get swollen adenoids (tissue at the back of the nose that helps to fight infection). Swollen adenoids can make glue ear worse. Sometimes, surgeons recommend that children have their adenoids taken out and grommets inserted at the same time.
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You will have a formal consultation with a healthcare professional. During this time you will be able to explain your medical history, symptoms and raise any concerns that you might have.
We will also discuss with you whether any further diagnostic tests, such as scans or blood tests, are needed. Any additional costs will be discussed before further tests are carried out.
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We understand that having surgery can potentially be a time of anxiety and worry for you and your child. Our experienced and caring medical staff will be there for your child, holding his or her hand, every step of the way.
Grommets are usually fitted under general anaesthesia, which means that your child will be asleep during the procedure. Occasionally, older children have grommets inserted under local anaesthesia. This completely numbs the area, but your child will still be awake.
Familiar faces are crucial in ensuring children feel safe and comfortable and we appreciate how worrying it can be for parents to be separated from their child, so you will be able to accompany your child to the operating theatre and stay with them until they are asleep.
The staff who will look after your child in the operating theatre and recovery room have received additional training in the care of children.
During the operation, the surgeon will look at the eardrum under a microscope. He or she will make a tiny cut (about 2mm) in the eardrum and use a fine sucker to draw out some of the fluid that has built up. The grommet is then inserted into the hole. This lets air pass into the ear and allows the fluid to drain.
Sometimes ear drops containing an antibiotic and a steroid are put into the ear to help prevent infection. Both ears can be treated during the same operation, which usually lasts up to 20 minutes.
Grommets are usually fitted as a day-case so your child will not need to stay in hospital overnight. After the procedure, he or she will be taken from the operating theatre to a recovery room, where they will come round from the anaesthesia under close supervision.
After this, you will be taken to your room or comfortable area where you can rest and recuperate until we feel you’re ready to go home.
On the ward, your child will be cared for by a registered sick children's nurse or a registered nurse with a child branch certificate.
Afterwards, your child may have earache, but often there is no pain. If your child has earache, you can give them paracetamol or ibuprofen. Make sure you follow the instructions on the packet, but you can usually give up to four doses a day.
There may be a little blood-stained discharge from the ear, but this is quite normal. Occasionally children notice a popping or clicking in the ears, but this is not harmful.
With the grommets in place, the fluid in the eardrum will usually clear up. The body will naturally push the grommet out into the ear tube as the eardrum heals, usually over a period of six to 12 months. Sometimes the grommet does not come out by itself and has to be removed with another small operation.
By the time the grommet has fallen out, the glue ear has usually gone away. However, the sticky fluid may return and some children need several operations to have grommets put in.
When the grommet has fallen out, the hole in the eardrum usually closes up of its own accord. In a few cases the hole does not seal up. This can be treated with another operation. When the grommet comes out, there may be a small scar left on the eardrum, but this usually has no effect on hearing.
Even after your child has left hospital, we’re still looking after him or her every step of the way. After glue ear treatment, we will provide you with a course of antibiotic ear drops for your child to reduce the risk of infection.
Your consultant will talk to you about the possible risks and complications of having this procedure and how they apply to your child.
The nurse will arrange an appointment for you to bring your child back to the outpatient clinic about six weeks later, when the surgeon will check the position of the grommets.
On rare occasions, complications following glue ear treatment can occur. If your child experiences any of these symptoms – ear infection or high fever – call us straight away.
If you have any questions or concerns, we're here to help.
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The treatment described on this page may be adapted to meet your individual needs, so it's important to follow your healthcare professional's advice and raise any questions that you may have with them.
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