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Grommets (ventilation tubes)

Ngongo whai hā

Grommets are small plastic tubes with a hole in the centre. They are inserted into the eardrum in a short operation.

They are often called air vents or ventilation tubes. This is because the hole in the grommet allows fresh air to pass into the middle ear. This reduces the risk of fluid build-up behind the eardrum and gives ear infections a chance to clear up.

Some tamariki (children) are prone to middle ear infections (also called otitis media). They may have as many as 5 or 6 a year. Sometimes, infections keep coming back and antibiotics do not help. In this case, health professionals may recommend having grommets inserted.

Grommets are also used in tamariki with glue ear, where fluid builds up in the space behind the eardrum. In such cases, hearing is reduced and tamariki may have learning difficulties.

Grommets stay in for 6 to 18 months then eventually fall out.

Talk to your general practice team about whether grommets are an option for your tamaiti (child).

Getting grommets

To get grommets, your tamaiti needs an operation. The operation takes about 10 to 15 minutes and is done as day surgery (they do not need to stay in hospital overnight).

During the operation:

An otolaryngologist performs the operation. Otolaryngologist were previously called ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialists.

Your tamaiti is usually allowed to go home an hour or so after the operation. They may be unsettled for a few hours. But they are unlikely to feel any pain in their ears after grommet insertion. It is most likely they will be able to return to school the following day.

In most cases, parents notice an immediate improvement in their child's hearing. Parents also report improvements in sleep and general behaviour.

If the infection comes back after the grommets have fallen out, your tamaiti may need another set. Your general practice team will discuss this with you.

Self-care with grommets

Your surgeon will probably recommend keeping their ears away from water for a few weeks. Ask your surgeon about ear protection when swimming and showering. Advice on this varies.

Like all operations, having grommets inserted carries some risks:

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed October 2023.


Page reference: 138077

Review key: HIEIG-48027