- Related Resources - Ear Tubes (Myringotomy & Tympanostomy Tubes)
- Brain Foods: Healthy Food for Kids' Brains
- Childhood Illnesses Picture Slideshow
- Take the ADHD Quiz
- Patient Comments: Ear Tubes - Experience
- Patient Comments: Ear Tubes - Follow Up
- Find a local Ear, Nose, & Throat Doctor in your town
- Ear tubes surgery definition and facts
- What is the purpose of ear tube placement?
- Ear tubes side effects: What are risks and complications of ear tubes?
- What happens before the ear tubes procedure?
- What to do the day of ear tubes surgery
- What happens during ear tube placement?
- What happens after ear tubes surgery?
- What are the general instructions and follow-up care for ear tubes?
Ear tubes surgery definition and facts
Diagram showing how ear tubes are surgically inserted
- Recurrent ear infections may require insertion of ear tubes.
- Ear tube placement involves a tiny incision in the ear drum.
- It is helpful to understand what to expect before, during, and after surgery.
- Ear tubes can have complications, it is important to follow of the doctor's directions following surgery.
What is the purpose of ear tube placement?
Middle ear infections (otitis media) are common in children. When a child has repeated ear infections or fluid build-up in the ears that do not go away easily or there are hearing problems or speech delays, a doctor may recommend surgery to insert an ear tube to allow the eardrum to equalize the pressure.
The surgery, called a myringotomy, is a tiny incision in the eardrum. Any fluid, usually thickened secretions will be removed. In most situations, a small plastic tube (a tympanostomy tube) is inserted into the eardrum to keep the middle ear aerated for a prolonged period.. These ventilating tubes remain in place for six months to several years. Eventually, they will move out of the eardrum (extrude) and fall into the ear canal. Your doctor may remove the tube during a routine office visit or it may simply fall out of the ear.
Less common conditions that may call for the placement of ear tubes are malformation of the eardrum or Eustachian tube, Down's syndrome, cleft palate, and barotrauma (middle ear injury caused by a reduction of air pressure), according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology.
Ear tubes side effects: What are risks and complications of ear tubes?
While ear tube surgery is common, minor complications can occur in up to half of the children who have them inserted. Complications include:
- Failure to resolve the ear infections.
- Thickening of the eardrum over time, which affects hearing in a small percentage of patients.
- Persistent perforation after the tube falls out of the eardrum.
- Chronic ear drainage.
- Hearing loss
- Scarring of the eardrum
- Ear canal skin tissue and material getting trapped inside the eardrum (cholesteatoma)
- Possible need to keep the ear dry and to use ear plugs
- Foreign body reaction to the tube itself - for example, an allergic reaction to the tube material (rare)
- While not a complication, some patients may have a need for further and more aggressive surgery such as tonsil, adenoid, sinus, or ear surgery.
What happens before the ear tubes procedure?
In most situations, the surgery is performed as an outpatient (no overnight stay usually required), at either the hospital or an outpatient surgery center. An anesthesiologist will monitor your child throughout the procedure. Usually, the anesthesiologist reviews the medical history before surgery. If your doctor has ordered preoperative laboratory studies, arrange to have these done several days in advance.
If your child is old enough to understand what surgery is, be honest and up front as you explain the upcoming surgery. A calming and reassuring attitude will greatly ease your child's anxiety. Most children will feel better having had the pressure relieved in their ears.
Your child must not eat or drink anything 6 to 12 hours prior to their time of surgery; this includes even water or chewing gum. Anything in the stomach increases the chances of an anesthetic complication.
If your child is sick or has a fever the day before surgery, call the office. If your child wakes up sick the day of surgery, still proceed to the surgical facility as planned. Your doctor will decide if it is safe to proceed with surgery. However, if your child has chickenpox, do not bring your child to the office or to the surgical facility.
- Exposure to Zika Virus in Womb Might Alter Kids' Development
- AHA News: 3 Heart Surgeries and a Mini-Stroke by Age 35. This Year? 3 Marathons
- As Kids' Obesity Rises, Brain Health Declines: Study
- Valium, Xanax Prescriptions Could Raise Overdose Risk in Youth
- Many U.S. Seniors Get Needless, Pricey Cervical Cancer Screenings
- More Health News »
What to do the day of ear tubes surgery
It is important that you know precisely what time you are to check-in with the surgical facility, and that you allow sufficient preparation time. Bring the required papers and forms with you, including the preoperative orders and history sheets. Your child should wear comfortable loose fitting clothes (pajamas are permissible). Leave all jewelry and valuables at home. They may bring a favorite toy, stuffed animal, or blanket.
What happens during ear tube placement?
Your child may be given a medication to help him or her relax prior to entering the operating room (premedication). In the operating room, the anesthesiologist will usually use a mixture of gas and an intravenous medication for sedation. During the procedure, which typically takes 10 to 15 minutes, your child will be continuously monitored including pulse oximeter (oxygen saturation of blood) and cardiac rhythm (EKG). The surgical team is prepared for any emergency. In addition to the surgeon and the anesthesiologist, there will be a nurse and a surgical technician in the room.
After the anesthetic takes effect, the doctor, using an operating microscope, makes a tiny incision in the eardrum through the outer ear canal. There will be no external incisions or stitches. Fluid will be suctioned from the ear, and a tube inserted in the eardrum. Usually, drops will be placed in the ear, and a cotton plug inserted in the ear canal.
What happens after ear tubes surgery?
After surgery, your child will be taken to the recovery room to be monitored by a nurse. You may be invited into the recovery room as your child becomes aware of their surroundings and starts looking for you. Your child should be able to go home the same day as the surgery once they have fully recovered from the anesthetic. This usually takes less than one hour.
Your child may resume a normal diet after he or she has fully recovered from the anesthetic. Even though they may be hungry immediately after surgery, it is best to feed them slowly to prevent postoperative nausea and vomiting. Occasionally, children may vomit one or two times immediately after surgery. If vomiting persists, your doctor may prescribe medication to settle the stomach.
What are the general instructions and follow-up care for ear tubes?
An appointment for a follow-up ear check-up is usually arranged 14 to 28 days after the procedure. At this visit, the position and function of the tubes will be assessed.
Usually, eardrops will be given to you the day of surgery. The surgeon will often place the same drops in the ear following the placement of the tubes. They are usually used after surgery for three days (3-4 drops each ear 3 times per day). If there is drainage from the ear after three days, you may be instructed to continue using the drops until the day before your office visit or as per doctor's instructions. Discontinue these drops if they cause severe pain or a skin rash.
You can "pump" them into the ear by pushing on the soft cartilage tissue located in front of the ear canal (medically termed the tragus).
Ear drainage may occur immediately after the procedure or at any time while the tubes are in place.
Yellow clear fluid or mucous may drain for several days to weeks after the surgery.
It is not unusual to see a bloody discharge following surgery. Cotton can be kept in the ear canal and changed as needed to keep dry.
If after the immediate post-operative period, profuse, foul-smelling discharge drains from the ear, an infection is the possible cause. If this occurs, begin by using eardrops for three days. If the drainage continues beyond three days, call the doctor to determine if additional medicine and/or an office visit is necessary.
Avoiding water for children with ear tubes or routine water precautions (wearing earplugs or headbands) is generally not recommended while tubes are in place with some exceptions. Water protection may be needed if pain results when the ears get wet, if there is prolonged drainage from the ear or for children who dive more than 6 feet under water, dunk their head in soapy bath tub water, or swim in areas other than chlorinated pools. There is an increased risk of infection in lake or pond water, as opposed to chlorinated water found in swimming pools. Follow your doctor's advice regarding water precautions.
Tympanostomy tubes usually stay in place from 6 to 18 months. If they stay in longer than two to three years, they may need to be surgically removed. It is important to have an ear check-up about every six months during this period. An audiogram is usually obtained at some point after the ear has healed. The tubes eventually fall out of the eardrum as the ear heals. Some children may have mild discomfort or bloody drainage at this time. The small hole in the eardrum at the old tube site usually heals within several weeks. Your doctor will instruct you when it is safe to allow water in the ears.
In some cases, insertion of ear tubes must be repeated if the tubes fall out and symptoms recur.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Top Ear Tubes Related Articles
Common Allergies: Symptoms and SignsWhat are allergies? Pollen, food, perfumes, and many more things can provoke allergy symptoms. Allergies are an overreaction of the immune system where the body's defenses react to certain allergens. Learn about common allergy triggers and how you can avoid an allergy attack.
Allergy (Allergies)An allergy refers to a misguided reaction by our immune system in response to bodily contact with certain foreign substances. When these allergens come in contact with the body, it causes the immune system to develop an allergic reaction in people who are allergic to it. It is estimated that 50 million North Americans are affected by allergic conditions. The parts of the body that are prone to react to allergies include the eyes, nose, lungs, skin, and stomach. Common allergic disorders include hay fever, asthma, allergic eyes, allergic eczema, hives, and allergic shock.
Plant and Tree AllergiesFind out more about which plants and trees might be producing pollen that is causing your itchy eyes and a runny nose.
Detecting Hearing Loss in ChildrenThere are many degrees of hearing, from normal hearing to deafness. Many states mandate the testing of newborns before leaving the hospital. The risk factors for hearing loss in children include
- a family history of hearing loss,
- frequent ear infections,
- diagnosis of a learning disability,
- syndromes associated with hearing loss,
- speech delay, and
- infectious diseases that cause hearing loss.
- the child not responding to his or her name,
- the child asking for words to be repeated, and
- the child not paying attention to what is being said.
Ear Health QuizHow loud is too loud? Take this quiz to learn about your ears, how they function, and how to keep them healthy.
Middle Ear Infection (Otitis Media)Middle ear infection (otitis media) is inflammation of the middle ear. There are two forms of this type of ear infection, acute and chronic. Acute otitis media is generally short in duration, and chronic otitis media generally lasts several weeks. Babies, toddlers, and children with a middle ear infection may be irritable, pull and tug at their ears, and experience numerous other symptoms and signs. Treatment depends upon the type of ear infection.
Ear Infection Home Treatment
Infections of the outer, middle, and inner ear usually are caused by viruses. Most outer (swimmer's ear) and middle ear (otitis media) infections can be treated at home with remedies like warm compresses for ear pain relief, tea tree, ginger, or garlic oil drops.
Symptoms of an outer ear (swimmer's ear) and middle ear infection include mild to severe ear pain, pus draining from the ear, swelling and redness in the ear, and hearing problems. Middle and inner ear infections may cause fever, and balance problems. Inner ear infections also may cause nausea, vomiting, vertigo, ringing in the ear, and labyrinthitis (inflammation of the inner ear).
Most outer and middle ear infections do not need antibiotics. Inner ear infections should be treated by a doctor specializing in ear and hearing problems.
Ear Infection QuizIs it possible to prevent ear infections? Take the Ear Infection (Otitis Media) Quiz to learn the risks, causes, symptoms and treatments for the common ear infection.
Illustrations of the EarThere are three sections of the ear, according to the anatomy textbooks. They are the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear. See a picture of Ear Anatomy and learn more about the health topic.
Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)An electrocardiogram is known by the acronyms "ECG" or "EKG" more commonly used for this noninvasive procedure to record the electrical activity of the heart. An EKG generally is performed as part of a routine physical exam, part of a cardiac exercise stress test, or part of the evaluation of symptoms. Symptoms evaluated include palpitations, fainting, shortness of breath, dizziness, fainting, or chest pain.
Hearing Losss QuizCan hearing loss be reversed? Take this quiz to find out!
Home Allergy Quiz: Is Your Home Allergy Proof?Take this home allergy quiz and test your knowledge on allergens, dust mites, pollens and more to see how allergy-proof your home is.
Inner Ear Infection (Labyrinthitis)
Labyrinthitis is inflammation of the labyrinth (the part of the ear responsible for balance and hearing). Doctors do not know the exact cause of labyrinthitis; however, they often are associated viral infections of the inner ear. Symptoms of labyrinthitis are ear pain or earache, ear discharge, problems with balance and walking, ringing in the ears, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and vertigo. Viral infections associated with labyrinthitis are contagious.
Home remedies may help labyrinthitis symptoms and signs. Over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medication may treat inner ear infections, labyrinthitis symptoms like vertigo and nausea, and help ear pain.
Nasal Allergy ReliefLearn how a combination of medication, preventing allergens, and allergy relief products can reduce allergy symptoms and help you feel better.
Swimmer's Ear (External Otitis)
Swimmer's ear (external otitis) is an infection of the skin that covers the outer ear canal.
Causes of swimmer's ear include excessive water exposure that leads to trapped bacteria in the ear canal. Symptoms of simmer's include a feeling of fullness in the ear, itching, and ear pain. Chronic swimmer's ear may be caused by eczema, seborrhea, fungus, chronic irritation, and other conditions.
Common treatment includes antibiotic ear drops.
Pain ManagementPain management and treatment can be simple or complex, according to its cause. There are two basic types of pain, nociceptive pain and neuropathic pain. Some causes of neuropathic pain include:
- complex regional pain syndrome,
- interstitial cystitis,
- and irritable bowel syndrome.
Questions To Ask Before SurgerySurgery is the branch of medicine that employs operations in the treatment of disease or injury. Prior to surgery you might consider asking your surgeon questions about the operation (procedure).
Tonsillectomy and Adenoidectomy SurgeryTonsillectomy is the surgical removal of both tonsils. A tonsillectomy may be performed in cases of recurrent tonsillitis, or treat sleep apnea and some speech disorders.