Florence St Family Practice
Glue ears. Do grommets help?
For many years, glue ear was thought to delay a child's language and development. However, glue ear may be less harmful than previously thought.
Glue ear occurs when the middle ear is filled with a sticky fluid, usually after a middle ear infection. The fluid reduces the vibration of the small bones that transmit sound and this may cause muffled hearing. Glue ear is most common in the first 6 years of life (especially in the first 3 years).
Many children have no symptoms. However, parents may notice reduced hearing, irritability, sleep disturbance or poor balance. Older children may report a pressure or blocked feeling in the ear.
How is it treated?
Glue ear usually goes away by itself within 2-3 months. A course of antibiotics may help. Repeatedly blowing up a balloon with the nose (yes, the nose!) may benefit some older children.
For many years, surgeons have inserted grommets to try and prevent long-term effects. Grommets are tiny circular tubes that are placed in the eardrum under anaesthetic. This clears the middle ear of fluid and improves the hearing immediately. A disadvantage of grommets is that children are usually advised to wear earplugs for swimming to keep the ears dry.
Routine use of grommets is now controversial. Recent trials suggest that they make little or no difference to speech and development in most children.
However, doctors still often recommend grommets for children with severe and persistent hearing loss, especially if they already have language or development problems.
See your GP for more information or visit: www.abc.net.au/health/library.
Please note this information was correct at time of printing.
For up to date information, speak to your doctor.
Source: Autumn 2006 edition of Your Health Newsletter