Blog & Articles

Understanding ear infections and the role of grommets

Posted on 01 November, 2014 by Dr Chyrisse Heine

Did you know that nearly every person will suffer at least 1 ear infection in their life? Many people unfortunately will suffer multiple ear infections. An ear infection may be acute (such as an episode that occurs and resolves) or chronic (repeated, ongoing ear infection) and usually develops from a respiratory tract infection. Since the ear is connected by a tube (the Eustachian tube, ET) to the nose and throat, any mucous from the nose and throat can potentially block the ET. When the ET fills with fluid and cannot drain through the nose or throat, it blocks the middle ear with fluid, pushes out the eardrum (Tympanic membrane, TM) and changes the air pressure in the middle ear. In extreme cases, when the fluid cannot drain, the tympanic membrane pierces (perforates) making a hole in the eardrum through which the fluid drains outwards. At this point, the pain caused by an ear infection subsides. The perforation may close but in some cases, unfortunately the perforation remains and may require surgical repair. For a young child, this is usually when they have stopped growing (sometimes by early adolescence). If a person suffers frequent recurrent ear infections, in order to prevent the TM from perforating, drainage tubes (known as ventilation tubes or grommets) may be surgically inserted into the TM. This operation is a relatively quick procedure but requires a general anaesthetic. It is via these tubes that the ear fluid drains. The tubes are extruded (fall out)  between 12-18 months following insertion.