If you go to your GP often with ear problems he may refer you to an Ear, Nose and Throat Surgeon. A common reason for this is recurrent middle ear infection. Sometimes these are caused by enlarged tonsils and adenoids. This is a more common problem in children. The reason for this is that the adenoids are proportionately larger in the young people. They stay the same size as we grow, meaning that some people will grow out of the problem. The tonsils and adenoids are situated at the back of the throat. This is near where the Eustachian tube opens into the nose. This tiny passageway lets air in and out of the middle ear space. If it is blocked then fluid builds up in the middle ear. Infection can follow. If it remains there for some time it is often referred to as glue ear. If it becomes infected it may lead to middle ear infection.
Sometimes a grommet is inserted into the eardrum to prevent the fluid building up behind the drum. A grommet is a tiny plastic tube only 2 or 3 mm long. It has a flange on either end to keep it in place. The surgeon makes a tiny hole in the ear drum with a scalpel and places the grommet in the hole. This holds it open and prevents it from healing closed.
This allows it to enter the middle ear space and drains any fluid which may build up. This can be enough to prevent the need for tonsils and adenoids being removed. Sometimes the Eustachian tube does not drain despite the tonsils and adenoids being of a normal size. The grommets may also be of use in this situation. They are usually left in place until they fall out on their own after a few weeks. The hole in the eardrum heals easily as it is a clean cut. Sometimes holes can become chronic, although this tends to be after the eardrum bursts.
Occasionally hearing aids are used to treat glue ear. This is particularly if deafness is the main problem, rather than recurrent infection. This saves the need for grommet insertion.
Some Ear, Nose And Throat Surgeons recommend using ear plugs to keep water out of the ears when grommets are in place. Some say that water can travel through the hole into the middle ear where it can cause damage. There is no concensus on this so it is probably worth being on the safe side and using plugs when swimming and washing the hair. When in the pool you should wear swimming hat or head band pulled low over the ears to keep them in. ZenPlugs are a good choice in this situation as they are waterproof and stay in well. They are also antibacterial so are more hygienic than other types of ear plugs.
Dr Toby Bateson or ZenPlugs