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Grommet surgery

BMJ Group Medical Reference


This information is for people whose child gets frequent ear infections. It tells you about surgery to put in grommets, a treatment used to prevent ear infections. It is based on the best and most up-to-date research.

Does it work?

Surgery to put in grommets may reduce the number of ear infections your child gets, but only in the first six months or so. Plus there's a chance that surgery could damage the eardrum.

What is it?

During this operation, the surgeon first makes a small hole in your child's eardrum and drains away the fluid. Then they put a small tube called a grommet in the hole in one or both of your child's ears. The tube lets air reach the middle ear. Doctors call this a tympanostomy.

Doctors usually do this operation for a condition called glue ear, rather than for an ear infection. Glue ear is when fluid gets trapped inside a child's ear, often after an ear infection has cleared up. It can affect a child's hearing. For more information, see Glue ear. But your doctor might also suggest this operation if your child is having a lot of ear infections.

It's normal for grommets to fall out after six months to 12 months.

To learn more about this operation, see More about surgery to put in grommets.

How can it help?

One small study looked at 44 children who had grommets put in one of their ears. For six months afterwards, the children had fewer infections in the ear that was operated on. [54] But this benefit didn't last.

A review of the research found two small studies looking at grommets. The first found that children had one or two fewer ear infections in the six months after surgery. The second also found that children got slightly fewer ear infections after having grommet surgery, but the difference was small enough to have happened by chance. [55]

How does it work?

The theory is that putting grommets in the ear allows any fluid that collects in the middle ear, which might become infected, to drain away. This allows air into the middle ear through the eardrum. Draining away any fluid and allowing air into the middle ear may help prevent further infections.

Can it be harmful?

Like any surgery, putting grommets in the ear has a risk of other problems (doctors call these problems complications).

It's common for a child to have a small discharge from their ear after this operation. But this doesn't necessarily mean that the ear is infected.

One small study found that some scarring of the eardrum is more common in children who had grommets. [54] But we're not sure whether scarring would affect a child's hearing in any way. The study also found that children who had grommets were slightly more likely to get other problems with their eardrums such as thinning of the eardrum. They might also have a hole that doesn't heal properly.

Last Updated: October 08, 2012
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.

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