Children’s hearing loss and ear infections

What causes hearing loss in kids?

Hearing loss in children can be due to many reasons, but the most common of these is ‘glue ear’ which is fluid in the middle ear (behind the eardrum). Any concerns about a child with hearing loss should be assessed with a proper hearing test from a reputable company, then assessment by and ENT surgeon.

What is the treatment for ‘glue ear’?

Often the fluid will go away by itself, but if it continues the child or toddler may need grommets (see below).

What types of ear infections are there?

The most common types are otitis externa, which is infection of the outer ear canal, acute otitis media, which involves the middle ear, and mastoiditis, which is an extension of acute otitis media into the bone behind the ear.

Are there any dangers in not treating recurrent acute otitis media?

Although individual infections can be treated with antibiotics, there are significant potential complications of acute otitis media. These include hearing loss, facial weakness, mastoiditis, meningitis, and not to mention disruption of schooling and family commitments.

What are grommets?

Grommets are small tubes that ventilate the middle ear, which is the space on the other side of the eardrum. The other name for grommets is Middle Ear Ventilation Tubes.

Why do we insert grommets?

Grommets are usually inserted for a few reasons. Recurrent middle ear infections in children, middle ear fluid that doesn’t resolve by itself, or poor ventilation of the middle ear resulting in problems equalizing the ear on planes or damage to the eardrum.

How is ear grommet surgery done?

The grommets are inserted via the external ear canal, with the patient either asleep (as in children) or possibly awake (as in uncomplicated adult situations).

What should I expect after grommet surgery?

If you are having the grommet inserted in Dr Slaughter or Dr Sommerville’s rooms under local anaesthetic, then you will most likely be able to go home immediately without any side effects. Only occasionally do patients need someone to drive them home, and this is due to some transient dizziness, not due to the local anaesthetic.

If a general anaesthetic is needed, as in kids, then the child will likely be able to leave hospital within a few hours and will likely feel fine. There is unlikely to be any pain, but occasionally a small amount of blood will discharge from the ear in the first 24hrs. Dr Sommerville or Dr Slaughter will review you approximately 2 weeks post-op.

Ear drops will be prescribed for 3 days post-op in most cases.

Should I avoid water exposure with the grommets?

Yes, we recommend that the ears be kept free of water, such as in baths/showers, or when swimming as this may increase the risk of infection. If there is accidental water exposure don’t panic, but if the ears start discharging after this, then contact Dr Sommerville and Dr Slaughter’s rooms as there is likely to be a need for ear drops.

Options for keeping the ears dry include over-the-counter earplugs, custom fitted plugs (available from audiologists/hearing aid centres), blu-tac, and also the use of headbands or caps when swimming.

How long do the grommets stay in for and how do they get out?

Depending on the type of grommet they may stay in for 6-9mths for the ‘short term grommet’ or up to two years for the ‘longer term’ grommet, or permanently if a particular type is used. Occasionally the grommet will need to be removed, but in general the grommet will be pushed out by the normal healing action of the eardrum. In ~95% of cases the hole left by the grommet will heal spontaneously.