What Is an Ear Tube
ear tube insertion is when a doctor inserts tiny tubes (tympanostomy tube or grommet) into the eardrum
to reduce the occurrence of ear infections and allow drainage of excess fluids.
The procedure is very common and poses minimal risks. The procedure is more
common for children, who suffer ear infections more often than adults.
Who Needs an Ear Tube
to the American Academy
of Otolaryngology, ear tube insertion is the most common childhood surgery
performed with anesthesia. Bacteria that travel from the nasal cavity into the
ear during a cold or other respiratory ailment are typically the cause. The
influx of bacteria stimulates inflammation and causes a fluid buildup behind
can also get ear infections, but children get them more often because they have
smaller eustachian tubes that are more likely to clog. The National
Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders says that 5 out
of 6 children will have at least one ear infection by their 3rd birthday.
times, ear infections will go away on their own, but antibiotics can treat them
effectively as well. Sometimes, however, a person will experience recurrent ear
infections and fluid buildup, or go for months with an ear infection that won’t
heal. These issues can cause problems that may lead to hearing loss, behavioral
issues, and speech development delays in children.
who suffer severe ear infections that spread to nearby tissues and bones or
suffer a pressure injury from flying or deep sea diving may also experience
similar symptoms that require an ear tube procedure.
What Is the Procedure for
Ear Tube Insertion?
otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat doctor) places tiny plastic or metal
tubes in the eardrum. Once inside the ear, these tubes will:
- reduce pressure; Ear infections and fluid buildup increase pressure
inside the ear, which is what causes pain. Ear tubes allow air to enter the
ear, equalizing the pressure between the inner ear and the outside world. This
eases pain and helps prevent accumulation of liquid in the middle ear.
- drain fluid; Ear tubes allow
pus and mucus buildup from ear infections to drain out of the ear without
causing pain or increasing risk of other related complications.
- prepare the ear
for treatment drops; Tubes also make it easier to use antibiotic drops in the
ears to treat infections. The tubes function as a passageway, permitting the
drops to travel directly into the ear. Because they make antibiotic drops
easier to use, they can eliminate the need for oral antibiotic treatment.
tube insertion, also called myringotomy and tympanostomy tube placement, is a
very common procedure performed under general anesthesia. The patient is asleep
and breathing on their own. The surgical team monitors heart rate, blood
pressure, and blood oxygen throughout the procedure.
actual surgery takes only about 10 to 15 minutes. The surgeon performs the
- makes an incision; The surgeon makes a tiny
incision in the eardrum with a small scalpel or laser. If left alone, this
incision would close and heal within a few days.
- removes fluid; Using a tiny vacuum, the surgeon
suctions out any excess fluids from the middle ear, cleaning out the area. This
is called aspiration of the middle ear. Your doctor will determine if this step
- inserts the tube; To allow air to enter your
ear and to drain the fluid, the surgeon inserts the tiny tube into the hole
made by the incision. The surgeon may place short-term tubes, which are smaller
and remain in the ear for 6 to 12 months before falling out on their own, or
long-term tubes, which are larger and typically stay in place for a longer
What Complications Are
Associated with Ear Tube Insertion?
tube insertion is very common and safe. On rare occasions, however, complications
may occur. Check with your doctor if you:
- experience a fever of 102 degrees Fahrenheit or more
- notice green, pus-like drainage coming out of your ear for
more than a week
- experience persistent pain or continuous bleeding (some
bleeding on the first day after surgery is common)
What Is Recovery Like After
Ear Tube Insertion?
typically stay in the recovery room for a short time and leave the hospital on
the same day. To reduce chances of infection, the doctor may prescribe
antibiotics or eardrops, and you may use over-the-counter pain relievers for
doctor may also recommend that you cover your ears when bathing or swimming to
help reduce the risk of bacteria entering the middle ear. Earplugs and other
watertight devices work well. Otherwise, the ear will heal by itself, securing
the tubes in place until they fall out eventually on their own (if the tubes
fall out prematurely, be sure to contact your doctor).
good news is that after surgery, most people experience far fewer ear
infections and recover faster from any infections they have. They also sleep
more soundly, hear better, and feel better in general.