Summary of intervention

This is a surgical procedure to insert tiny tubes (grommets) into the eardrum as a treatment for fluid build up (glue ear) when it is affecting hearing in children.


Glue ear is a very common childhood problem (4 out of 5 children will have had an episode by age 10), and in most cases it clears up without treatment within a few weeks. Common symptoms can include earache and a reduction in hearing.


Often, when the hearing loss is affecting both ears it can cause language, educational and behavioural problems.


Please note this guidance only relates to children with Glue Ear (Otitis Media with Effusion) and SHOULD NOT be applied to other clinical conditions where grommet insertion should continue to be normally funded, these include:

  • Recurrent acute otitis media
  • Atrophic tympanic membranes
  • Access to middle ear for transtympanic instillation of medication Investigation of unilateral glue ear in adults.


Number of CCG intervention 201718




The NHS should only commission this surgery for the treatment of glue ear in children when the criteria set out by the NICE guidelines are met:

  • All children must have had specialist audiology and ENT assessment
  • Persistent bilateral otitis media with effusion over a period of 3 months
  • Hearing level in the better ear of 25-30dbHL or worse averaged at 0.5, 1, 2, & 4kHz
  • Exceptionally, healthcare professionals should consider surgical intervention in children with persistent bilateral OME with a hearing loss less than 25-30dbHL where the impact of the hearing loss on a child’s developmental, social or educational status is judged to be significant
  • Healthcare professionals should also consider surgical intervention in children who cannot undergo standard assessment of hearing thresholds where there is clinical and tympanographic evidence of persistent glue ear and where the impact of the hearing loss on a child’s developmental, social or educational status is judged to be significant
  • The guidance is different for children with Down’s Syndrome and Cleft Palate, these children may be offered grommets after a specialist MDT assessment in line with NICE guidance
  • It is also good practice to ensure glue ear has not resolved once a date of surgery has been agreed, with tympanometry as a minimum.


The risks to surgery are generally low, but the most common is persistent ear discharge (10-20%) and this can require treatment with antibiotic eardrops and water precautions. In rare cases (1-2%) a persistent hole in the eardrum may remain, and if this causes problems with recurrent infection, surgical repair may be required (however this is not normally done until around 8-10 years of age).


Rationale for recommendation

In most cases glue ear will improve by itself without surgery. During a period of monitoring of the condition a balloon device (e.g. Otovent) can be used by the child if tolerated, this is designed to improve the function of the ventilation tube that connects the ear to the nose. In children with persistent glue ear, a hearing aid is another suitable alternative to surgery. Evidence suggests that grommets only offer a short-term hearing improvement in children with no other serious medical problems or disabilities.


The NHS should only commission this surgery when the NICE criteria are met, as performing the surgery outside of these criteria is unlikely to derive any clinical benefit.