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Patient Information

Ear tubes are surgically inserted in children — and sometimes in adults — to relieve pressure from fluid buildup caused by infections. Ear pressure injuries also can results from flying or deep sea diving. Ear tube surgery, also called myringotomy or tympanostomy, is performed by a pediatric ENT. A pediatric ENT is someone who practices pediatric otolaryngology meaning he/she treats young children and teens.

How It’s Done: Check out our education video on ear tubes surgery, featuring Dr. Michael Ferguson.

The tubes are placed near a child’s eardrums, allowing the fluid behind the eardrums to drain so that the ears can function normally. While the child is under general anesthesia (asleep and not able to feel pain), a small surgical cut is made in the eardrum. The built-up fluid is suctioned out through this cut. Then, a small tube is inserted through the eardrum. The tube allows air to flow in and fluid to flow out of the middle ear.

The surgical cut heals on its own, without stitches. The hole closes, and the ear tubes usually fall out on their own after 14 months or so.

Why the Procedure Is Performed

Ear tube insertion may be recommended when fluid builds up behind your child's eardrum and does not go away after four (4) months or longer. Fluid buildup may cause some hearing loss while it is present. But most children do not have long-term damage to their hearing or their ability to speak even when the fluid remains for many months.

An ear infection is another reason for inserting ear surgery tubes. If an infection does not go away with the usual medical treatment, or if a child has many ear infections over a short period of time, the doctor may recommend ear surgery tubes.

Ear surgery tubes are also used sometimes for people of any age who have these conditions:

  • Barotrauma (pressure injury) from flying or deep sea diving
  • Hyperbaric oxygen
  • A complication from a severe ear infection, such as mastoiditis, brain infection, meningitis, or facial nerve paralysis

After the procedure, children usually stay in the recovery room for a short time and leave the hospital the same day the ear surgery tubes are inserted. Your child may be groggy and irritable for an hour or so as they awaken from anesthesia. Your child’s doctor may prescribe ear drops or antibiotics for a few days after the surgery.

Most children can return to normal activities the day after the surgery. Some ear, nose and throat specialists will recommend earplugs or swimmer’s headbands while swimming or bathing to keep water out of the ears. If earplugs are not recommended for these activities, they may be recommended for diving in deep water.

After this procedure, most parents report their children have fewer ear infections and recover quickly from them. If the tubes do not fall out on their own, an ear specialist may have to remove them. If ear infections return after the tubes fall out, another set of ear tubes can be inserted.

Questions to Ask Your Pediatric ENT

Parents may wish to ask their pediatric ENT these questions involving ear surgery tubes:

  • Why does my child need ear tubes?
  • Can we try other treatments?
  • What are the risks of the surgery?
  • Is it safe to wait before getting ear tubes?
  • Will it harm my child's ears if we wait longer before putting in tubes?
  • Will my child still learn to speak and read if we wait longer before putting in tubes?
  • What type of anesthesia will my child need?
  • Will my child feel any pain?
  • What are the risks of the anesthesia?
  • How long will the tubes stay in?
  • How do the tubes come out?
  • Do the holes where the tubes are placed close up?
  • Will my child still have ear infections while the tubes are in place?
  • Will my child have ear infections again after the ear tubes come out?

Click here to listen to Dr. Michael Ferguson’s podcast about ear tubes.