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Ear Nose & Throat Service (ENT)

Glue Ear

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Why Is My Child Not Hearing Properly?

There is a small tube (the eustachian tube) extending from the middle ear to the back of the nose which keeps air pressure on both sides of the ear drum equal. Because of its size and position, and because small children often suffer from colds, infected adenoids and allergies, it is quite common for the eustachian tubes to become blocked. When this happens the air pressure in the middle ear drops, the air is replaced with fluid from the surrounding tissues, this fills the middle ear cavity.

The fluid becomes thick and sticky (glue) and prevents the 3 small bones from doing their work. 

Can This Fluid Disappear Without Treatment?

When the child's allergy or infection has been successfully treated, often the eustachian tube will start working again. After a few weeks the glue may drain away and hearing could return to normal.

If there is no improvement in your child's hearing, or if speech development is suffering the specialist may recommend an operation. This is a very short operation.

The surgeon will look into the ear canal using a microscope and will make a tiny hole in the ear drum (a myringotomy). If the area behind the ear drum is found to be dry, this hole will heal over in 2-3 weeks.

If there is a collection of glue it will be removed using a little suction instrument, and a tiny plastic tube (a grommet) will be inserted into the opening.

The grommet has a hole in the centre which allows the air in the middle ear to return and stops any more build-up of fluid. The grommet stays in the ear drum, doing its work for 6-12 months and then falls out.

Will my child be asleep for the operation?

Yes - a letter asking you to bring your child to the hospital for either the morning or the afternoon will also explain to you when you should give him /her a last drink - a short period of not eating and drinking is necessary to ensure an empty stomach in preparation for a general anaesthetic. The anaesthetist will send your child off to sleep using either:

  1. a little scratch on the back of the hand - this will not hurt as the nurse will apply some cream to numb the skin or
  2. some 'sleepy gas' to breathe through a mask.

You will be able to stay with your child until he / she is asleep.

How long will the operation take?

The operation will take about 10 - 15 minutes and then your child will be looked after in the recovery room next to the theatre until awake. You can expect him / her to be away from the ward for about 20 - 30 minutes just enough time for you to enjoy a welcome cuppa.

When your child is awake the nurse will take you to collect and bring him / her back to the ward.

After a short rest on the bed and a snack to eat and drink your child will be able to get up and play until it is time to go home.

Will my child be in pain?

Your child may have some earache and may require something to relieve this - ask your nurse if you feel he / she is in any discomfort.  Many children do not appear to have any pain at all following grommet insertion.

I've heard that children are not allowed to swim with grommets in?

You should discuss this with your child's surgeon before the operation. The nurse who is there when your child leaves the ward will remind you of your surgeon's wishes.

When will be able to go home?

You will be told on admission what time you can expect to be able to take your child home.  As a rough guide so that you can make arrangements:

  • Lunchtime for morning operations
  • 5 - 6 pm for afternoon operations

You and your child will be seen by a doctor. Instructions will be explained to you, before leaving, on what to expect at home. You will be given these in writing.

If you have any more questions please ask your nurse and she will be pleased to help or telephone the ward on 0191 284 3111 ext 26011.

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