Indications for Ear Tubes
Ear tubes are usually considered when a child has fluid in both ears for more than 3 months or has repeated ear infections. It may also be performed for patients with evidence of hearing loss or a speech delay, or for ear infections caused by structural damage to the ear. Your child’s doctor will decide whether or not to recommend surgery based on a thorough evaluation of each patient’s individual condition, age and overall health. The tubes are usually effective in preventing ear infection and the buildup of pressure and fluid, but these conditions can return after the tubes are gone.
Ear Tube Procedure
Ear tube surgery, known as a myringotomy, involves a tiny incision in the eardrum. Any fluid in the ear is drained through the hole before the tube is inserted. The ear tube helps keep the hole open so that ongoing drainage can occur and the risk of ear infections will be significantly reduced. This surgery is performed as an outpatient procedure under general anesthesia and only takes 10-15 minutes.
After surgery, patients will be monitored and then discharged home once anesthesia wears off. Hearing loss and other symptoms should be relieved immediately after surgery. It is important to keep the ears clean and dry after surgery in order to reduce the risk of infection. Your doctor will provide specific post-surgical instructions to help the ear heal quickly and efficiently.
Most children can return to school and other activities the next day, although special precautions will be needed for swimming or bathing. Drainage from the ears may be visible for up to a week after surgery, and may appear as clear, green or yellow crusted material or liquid.
Results of Ear Tube Surgery
After surgery, patients usually see a significant decrease in ear infections, as well as improved hearing, speech and sleep patterns, as these factors can be disturbed by a painful ear infection. Some patients may still get an occasional ear infection after surgery, which is considered normal.
In most cases, ear tubes stay in place for six to 12 months, before they fall out on their own. Sometimes, the tubes do not fall out on their own and may need to be surgically removed, which involves a simple outpatient procedure.
Risks of Ear Tubes
Ear tubes are a safe and effective treatment for recurring ear infections and carry only a low risk of complications. Some of these may include infection, tearing of the eardrum, bleeding or persistent drainage of fluid. These complications are considered rare and can be further reduced by choosing an experienced doctor to perform your procedure.