A tympanostomy tube is also known as a grommet. It is a tiny flanged tube only about 3mm long which is placed into a hole in the ear drum to treat certain ear conditions. An ear, nose and throat specialist makes a tiny cut in the eardrum under anaesthetic, using a scalpel. The tube is then inserted into the hole to hold it open and stop it healing.
The hole ventilates the middle ear space behind the ear drum. This allows air in and dries the area out. This can kill many of the bugs which cause ear infections. Tympanostomies are used for glue ear with repeated infections. Glue ear is the build-up of fluid behind the ear drum. Sometimes the main problem this causes is deafness, in which case hearing aids are often used for treatment. If recurrent ear infections are a problem then a tympanostomy tube is used for treatment.
Tubes are held in place by the flanges on either end. They make it look like a cotton bobbin. The drum pinches the narrowing in the middle, keeping it in place. They usually fall out of their own accord after around 6 weeks. The hole in the drum then heals up.
Many ENT surgeons advise avoiding getting water in the ears when tympanostomy tubes are in place. This is similar to when there is a perforation of the ear drum. There is no body of evidence as to whether there is any benefit in this so it is probably worth erring on the safe side and avoiding it.
Wear molded ear plugs to keep water out of your ears during hair washing. ZenPlugs are ideal as they stay in well and are great at keeping water out. They are also antibacterial making them more hygienic with regular use.
Dr Toby Bateson, MD of ZenPlugs