What Are Ear Grommets?

Ear tube to help drain fluid in the ear
Ear tube to help drain fluid in the ear. By BruceBlaus (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Ear grommets are referred to as a variety of different names including:

  • ear tubes
  • ventilation tubes
  • pressure equalization (PE) tubes
  • myringotomy tubes
  • tympanostomy tubes

Ear grommets are synthetic ear tubes which are surgically placed into the auditory tube in order to treat fluid in the ear. They are made of a man made material that is suitable for insertion into the body. This procedure is commonly done for small children who are more likely to experience fluid in the ear and frequent ear infections.

Fluid in the ears occurs when the body's natural ear tube (auditory tube) becomes blocked by:

  • debris
  • enlarged structures such as sinus tissue, adenoids, turbinates, or other growths
  • developmental positioning of the auditory tubes doesn't promote proper drainage. This is particularly the problem with children, as they tend to have a more horizontal auditory tube than adults, which makes them more prone to collecting fluid in the ears.

How Are Ear Grommets Inserted?

While the surgical procedure itself is very short (lasting about 15 minutes) and the recovery is usually quick, adults and children are often put under general anesthesia when having ear grommets placed. This helps them to hold perfectly still while the doctor makes a tiny incision in their ear drum called a myringotomy or tympanostomy, as well as relieving stress and discomfort.

  1. Fast prior to the surgery. You will generally be instructed to fast starting at midnight the day of your procedure. Fasting is important due to general anesthesia for surgery, so that you do not inhale stomach contents into your lungs which can be dangerous. You should receive specific instructions on when to stop eating and drinking prior to the procedure. For your own safety you should follow these instruction exactly, (for more information read Why Can't I Eat or Drink Before Surgery?
  1. During pre-op, you will meet with a nurse to get your blood pressure and oxygen levels (saturations) checked and any medications (like Versed). You will also likely meet with the anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist to discuss any previous experiences with anesthesia. An IV (catheter in a vein for medications) will be placed by either the nurse or the anesthesiologist.
  1. Myringotomy will be performed by the otolaryngologist and if fluid in the ears are present, they will suck out any fluid found.
  2. Ear grommets will be carefully placed into the tiny hole in the ear drum.
  3. Antibiotic drops may be inserted immediately after placing the ear tube if infection is suspected.after placing the ear tube.

Ear grommets are not held in using stitches but are usually held in place by the ear drum. In children, long term ear grommets are not usually necessary and it is desirable that they fall out when the child's auditory tube grows. This is not painful and you usually do not know when the tube has fallen out unless a doctor examines the ear.

For adults it may be desirable that the ear grommets remain in place for a longer period of time. They are still not stitched in but a kind of grommet that has flanges on it which help to hold it in place are used. This type of ear grommet can fall out on its own or may need to be surgically removed.

After Having Ear Grommets Placed

If the placement of ear grommets is the only procedure performed people do not typically experience a lot of pain after their surgery. Often, over-the-counter acetaminophen is adequate to treat any discomfort.

You may experience side effects of the anesthetic medications you were given. Those who undergo general anesthesia may feel tired or dizzy for a day or so and some will experience nausea. You should receive specific instructions tailored to your situation on what to expect before going home. It is used to be recommended that people who have ear grommets keep water out of their ears to avoid infections. However this is becoming less common. If desired, ear plugs, can be worn for swimming or bathing,


American Academy of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery. Ear Tubes. Accessed: August 29, 2012 from http://www.entnet.org/HealthInformation/Ear-Tubes.cfm

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