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Ear tube insertion


Ear tube insertion involves placing tubes through the eardrums. The eardrum is the thin layer of tissue that separates the outer and middle ear.

Note: This article focuses on ear tube insertion in children. However, most of the information could also apply to adults with similar symptoms or problems.

Alternative Names:

Myringotomy; Tympanostomy; Ear tube surgery; Pressure equalization tubes; Ventilating tubes


While the child is asleep and pain-free (general anesthesia), a small surgical cut is made in the eardrum. Any fluid that has collected behind the eardrum is removed with suction through this cut.

Then, a small tube is placed through the eardrum. The tube allows air to flow in so that pressure is the same on both sides of the eardrum. Also, trapped fluid can flow out of the middle ear. This prevents hearing loss and reduces the risk of ear infections.

Why the Procedure Is Performed:

The buildup of fluid behind your child's eardrum may cause some hearing loss. But most children do not have long-term damage to their hearing or speech, even when the fluid is there for many months.

Ear tube insertion may be done when fluid builds up behind your child's eardrum and:

  • Does not go away after 3 months and both ears are affected
  • Does not go away after 6 months and fluid is only in one ear

Ear infections that do not go away with treatment or that keep coming back are also reasons for placing an ear tube. If an infection does not go away with treatment, or if a child has many ear infections over a short period of time, the doctor may recommend ear tubes.

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

  • A severe ear infection that spreads to nearby bones (mastoiditis) or the brain, or that damages nearby nerves
  • Injury to the ear after sudden changes in pressure from flying or deep sea diving

Risks of ear tube insertion include:

Most of the time, these problems do not last long. They also do not often cause problems in children. Your doctor can explain these complications in more detail.

The risks for any anesthesia are:

  • Breathing problems
  • Reactions to medicines

The risks for any surgery are:

  • Bleeding
  • Infection
Outlook (Prognosis):

After this procedure, most parents report that their children:

  • Have fewer ear infections
  • Recover more quickly from infections

If the tubes do not fall out on their own in a few years, 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.


Browning GG, Rovers MM, Williamson I, Lous J, Burton MJ. Grommets (ventilation tubes) for hearing loss associated with otitis media with effusion in children. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010;(10):CD001801.

Casselbrant ML, Mandel EM. Acute otitis media and otitis media with effusion. In: Cummings CW, Flint PW, Haughey BH, et al, eds. Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2010:chap 194.

Rosenfeld RM, Schwartz SR, Pynnonen MA, et al. Clinical practice guideline: Tympanostomy tubes in children. Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2013;149(1 Suppl):S1-35.

van Dongen TM, van der Heijden GJ, Venekamp RP, Rovers MM, Schilder AG. A trial of treatment for acute otorrhea in children with tympanostomy tubes. N Engl J Med. 2014;370:723-33.

Review Date: 8/4/2014
Reviewed By: Ashutosh Kacker, MD, BS, Professor of Clinical Otolaryngology, Weill Cornell Medical College, and Attending Otolaryngologist, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, New York, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. Copyright 2002 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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