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Ear tube insertion


Definition:

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

Description:

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:

Risks of ear tube insertion include:

These problems do not usually last long. They also do not usually 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.

References:

Paradise JL, Feldman HM, Campbell TF, Dollaghan CA, Rockette HE, Pitcairn DL, et al. Tympanostomy tubes and developmental outcomes at 9 to 11 years of age. N Engl J Med. 2007; 356(3):248-61.

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: Mosby Elsevier; 2010:chap 194.

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.


Review Date: 7/30/2012
Reviewed By: Seth Schwartz, MD, MPH, Otolaryngologist, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.

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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