Hearing management

Updated 11 December 2017

Are grommets worth the trouble?

Between the ages of six months and two years, many kids go through repeated cycles of ear infections that can cause pain, fever and hearing loss.


Young children have a natural amount of fluid in the middle ear, behind the eardrum. With middle ear disease, the fluid doesn’t drain down the narrow Eustachian tube.

As a consequence, bacterial and viral infections develop in the back of the nose and throat and this causes hearing problems.

Inserting grommets (or tympanostomy tubes) helps prevent recurrent ear infections because the fluid can be drained, allowing a free flow of air to the middle ear.

The grommets don’t have to be removed surgically. Sometimes they’re rejected quite quickly but it usually takes quite a few months for this to happen spontaneously - it can be up to 18 months. In the meantime the eardrum seals quite normally.

However, it may not always be necessary to insert grommets. A large study at the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh followed over 6000 healthy babies and toddlers who were advised to have grommet surgery. The babies were divided into two groups: one having immediate operations or another group that waited for six months. The study, reported in the New England Journal of medicine, found that only a third of the group of children that waited needed to have the operation at all.

And when the children's language, intellectual development and behaviour were measured at three years, there were no differences between the groups. So results show that it may be safe to watch and wait, and in many instances it seems, nature will take care of the fluid itself.


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Hearing Expert

Dr Kara Hoffman graduated from UCT in 2004, thereafter she completed her year of community service in Durban. In 2010 she completed her Masters Degree in Paediatric Aural Rehabilitation from UKZN. In 2016, she became a Doctor of Audiology through the University of Arizona (ATSU). Dr Hoffman and her partner Lauren Thompson opened a fully diagnostic audiology practice called Thompson & Hoffman Audiology Inc. In 2011 with world-class technology and equipment to be able to offer the broad public all hearing-related services including hearing testing for adults and babies, vestibular (balance) assessments and rehabilitation, industrial audiology, hearing devices, central auditory processing assessments for school-aged children, school screening, neonatal hearing screening programmes at Alberlito and Parklands Hospital, cochlear implants and other implantable devices, medicolegal assessments and advanced electroacoustic assessments of hearing. Thompson and Hoffman Audiology Inc. are based at Alberlito Hospital in Ballito, St Augustines Hospital in Durban and at 345 Essenwood Road, Musgrave. The practices are all wheelchair friendly. There are three audiologists that practice from Thompson & Hoffman – including Dr Kara Hoffman, Lauren Thompson & Minette Lister. The practice boasts professional, highly qualified, and extensive diagnostic services where all your hearing healthcare needs can be met. The additional licensing in vestibular assessment and rehabilitation, paediatric rehabilitation and cochlear implantation places this practice in one of the top specialist audiological positions in South Africa, with a wealth of experience in all clinical areas of audiology and is a very well respected and sought-after practice.

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