Are grommets the answer?

At just 2½, my daughter Mira has had more middle ear infections than other people have colds. The infections started when she was about 4 months old. With her older sister at crèche, we were not too surprised at first. But we soon became alarmed by the frequency of the infections.

A runny nose would turn into post-nasal drip, tonsillitis and/or ear infection – not to mention the odd bout of bronchitis. By the time she turned 1, grommets were recommended. Hoping that she’d outgrow the infections, we decided to wait and see. I also feared that grommets might pose a risk to her eardrums and cause hearing problems.

In fact, because of the frequent infections leading to fluid build-up behind the eardrums, Mira’s hearing wasn’t what it should’ve been. At the age where speech development plays a major role, she was experiencing a rather muffled version of the world.

At 16 months we could no longer postpone the operation. And at that point I’d met so many parents with similar experiences, all lauding the benefits of grommets, that I felt reassured.

Unfortunately, Mira’s health problems did not end after the operation. We could now more easily treat the ear infections, but she was still getting sick (about every three weeks). At 26 months, removing her adenoids and tonsils – the source of the infections – was the only option. She also had her grommets replaced.

Finally, after living on antibiotics and yoghurt for months, she has now been drug-free since the second operation. Like any child, she still gets colds. She also still gets ear infections, but they no longer make her sick or cause her pain because the grommets are doing their job.

An operation at 7 months

My daughter’s story is not unique. Kathy Viscardi’s son, Jackson (17 months), developed an ear infection when he was only two weeks old. And that was the start of a cycle of ear infections, tonsillitis, antibiotics. Jackson suffered from reflux, a condition which causes food and stomach acid to flow back into the oesophagus. Fluid would reach his small nasal passages, and ultimately his ears. He lost interest in feeding and at 5 months could only manage half a bottle at a time. Introducing solids became very difficult, which affected his sleep pattern.

Doctors usually recommend waiting until a child is one before performing the operation, but Jackson’s condition necessitated intervention at 7 months.

‘Right after the operation his appetite came back,’ says Kathy. ‘He was happy to drink his bottles and was swallowing solids much easier. As he was eating much better, he slept much better. Now that his ears drain themselves it makes a huge difference when he gets anything as he keeps eating.’

When Matthew Heradien started swimming lessons just before his third birthday, the milestone was also the start of another phase: ear infections. Within a month and a half he’d had no fewer than 3 bouts. Unwilling to deny her son a summer activity he so obviously enjoyed, , his mom, Tania, bought earplugs. But by the time he was 3½, he’d been on antibiotics so often, there was no doubt that he needed grommets.

Matthew is now a healthy 9-year-old and has not had a single ear infection since he had grommets inserted – a rare feat even for children without previous ear problems.

Most children will have an ear infection before the age of 5. For some children, however, ear infections become a chronic problem, making grommet insertion a necessity. Dr Ola Basson, a Cape Town ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist, says she performs several grommet insertions on a weekly basis, an indication of how common the procedure is.

The grommet basics

Did grommets work for you or not?
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