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Ear tubes are plastic and shaped like a
hollow spool. Doctors suggest tubes for children who have repeat ear infections
or when fluid stays behind the eardrum. A specialist (otolaryngologist) places the tubes through a small
surgical opening made in the eardrum (myringotomy or tympanostomy). The child
is unconscious under
general anesthesia for this surgery.
Tubes can help with ear infections because
Tubes can be inserted in an outpatient
surgery clinic. Children usually recover quickly and have little pain or other
symptoms after surgery. Children can usually go home within 1 to 2 hours after
the surgery. Your child will probably be able to return to school or child care
the next day.
Follow-up visits to the doctor after a child has
tubes inserted are very important. The doctor checks to see whether the tubes
are working and whether the child's hearing has improved.
Ask your doctor if your child needs to take extra care to keep water from getting in the ears when bathing or swimming. Your child may need to wear earplugs. Check with your doctor to find out what he or she recommends.
Tubes normally remain in the ears for 6 to 12 months. They often fall out
on their own. If the tubes don't fall out on their own, your child may need
surgery to remove them. After the tubes are out, watch your child for signs of
ear infection or fluid behind the eardrum.
Placing tubes in the ears drains the
fluid and ventilates the middle ear. Tubes may keep
ear infections from recurring while the tubes are in
place. They also keep fluid from building up behind the eardrum. Doctors
consider surgery to insert tubes:
Ear tubes often restore hearing.
While the tubes are in place, they often prevent buildup of pressure and fluid
in the middle ear. And they can reduce pain.
Tubes may keep ear
infections from recurring while the tubes are in place. But infections may
return after the tubes are gone.
Minor complications occur in up to half of the
children who have tubes inserted. Usual complications include:
Other possible complications:
Some children who have tubes
inserted may need to have tubes reinserted.
Tubes may scar the
eardrum. Scarring may lead to minor hearing loss.
After surgery, a
child needs regular checkups to see that the tubes are working. In some cases,
the child may need
antibiotics to prevent or treat infections.
Complete the surgery information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you prepare for this surgery.
Other Works Consulted
Rosenfeld RM, et al. (2013). Clinical practice guideline: Tympanostomy tubes in children. Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery, 149(Suppl 1): S1–S35. DOI: 10.1177/0194599813487302. Accessed January 17, 2014.
Current as of:
April 1, 2014
Susan C. Kim, MD - Pediatrics
& Charles M. Myer, III, MD - Otolaryngology
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