What are Ear Tubes?
Children who suffer from repeat ear infections or fluid in the ear may benefit from ear tubes. Ear tubes are plastic inserts that are surgically placed in the eardrum. They allow for the following:
- Air to enter the middle ear
- Allow fluid out of the ear
- Prevent future buildup of fluid and restore hearing
Most patients experience a significant reduction in the number of ear infections from this treatment, as well as relief from hearing loss and associated symptoms.
What causes an ear infection?
Ear infections, also known as otitis media, are a common childhood condition that involves a buildup of excess fluid within the ear. This condition causes the following:
- Hearing loss
- Difficulty sleeping
It is most common in children between the ages of four months and five years. While most cases go away on their own within a few days, some children may develop recurring ear infections that do not respond to treatment.
Ideal Candidate for Ear Tubes
We consider ear tubes surgery 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 Surgery
Ear tube surgery, known as a myringotomy, involves a tiny incision in the eardrum. Your physician will drain any fluid in the ear through the hole before the inserting the tube. The ear tube helps keep the hole open so that ongoing drainage can occur, reducing the risk of ear infections. 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. 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.
Ear Tube Surgery Recovery Time
Hearing loss and other symptoms should be relieved immediately after surgery. 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.
What Are the 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.
Do ear tubes need to be removed?
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.