Ear tube insertion
Ear tube insertion is a procedure to drain fluid that has built up behind a child’s eardrums. The purpose of the procedure is to restore the normal functioning of the ear.
While the child is under general anesthesia, a small surgical cut is made in the eardrum. The fluid is suctioned out. A small tube is inserted through the eardrum. The tube allows air to flow in, and fluid to continuously flow out, of the middle ear.
The surgical cut heals on its own, without the need for stitches. The hole closes and the ear tubes usually fall out naturally, after an average of 14 months or so.
The most common reason for performing this surgery is when fluid continues to build up behind a child's eardrum for 4 months or longer, and there is hearing loss or the risk for developmental problems.
If there is a compelling reason, some children may be candidates for ear tube surgery regardless of how long the fluid has been present or their hearing ability.
Ear tube insertion is sometimes used for:
- Acute ear infections
- Patients undergoing hyperbaric oxygen therapy
- Those who have had a complication resulting from a severe ear infection, such as mastoiditis, brain infection, meningitis, or facial nerve paralysis
- Barotrauma from flying or deep sea diving
The risks for any anesthesia are:
- Reactions to medications
- Problems breathing
The risks for any surgery are:
Additional risks include scarring of the eardrum and drainage from the ear. These complications are usually temporary or do not cause problems in children. Your doctor can explain these complications in more detail.
After this procedure, most parents report fewer ear infections, faster recovery from infections, and less worrying about whether their children have ear infections.
If ear infections return after the first tubes fall out, the procedure can be repeated with another set of ear tubes.
Patients usually leave the hospital the same day. Swimming is prohibited unless special earplugs are worn. Use of a cap while under a shower is recommended for several days or weeks.
Reviewed By: James L. Demetroulakos, M.D., F.A.C.S., Department of Otolaryngology, North Shore Medical Center, Salem, MA. Clinical Instructor in Otology and Laryngology, Harvard Medical School. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.