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Health Information For Parents
Ear tubes are tiny tubes made of metal or plastic. During ear tube surgery, a small hole is made in the eardrums and the tubes are inserted. The opening to the middle ear (the area behind the eardrum) lets air flow in and out. This keeps air pressure even between the middle ear and the outside, and helps to drain fluid that builds up behind the eardrum.
Most kids won’t need surgery to have a tube taken out later. Ear tubes usually fall out on their own, pushed out as the eardrum heals.
Ear tubes are also called tympanostomy tubes, myringotomy tubes, ventilation tubes, or pressure equalization (PE) tubes.
Many kids get middle ear infections (otitis media). This often happens when a child has a cold or other respiratory infection. Bacteria or viruses can enter the middle ear and fill it with fluid or pus. When fluid pushes on the eardrum, it can cause an earache and affect hearing. Long periods of decreased hearing in young children can lead to delays in speech development.
Children who get a lot of ear infections are sometimes sent for hearing tests.
A doctor might suggest ear tube surgery if:
Ear tube surgery can drain fluid from the middle ear, prevent future infections, and help the child hear properly again.
Your health care provider will tell you what and when your child can eat and drink before the surgery, because the stomach must be empty on the day of the procedure.
Surgery, no matter how common or simple, can be scary for kids. You can help prepare your child by talking about what to expect during the ear tube surgery.
An ear, nose, and throat (ENT) surgeon will do the surgery, called a myringotomy (meer-in-GOT-uh-mee). It’s done in an operating room while your child is under general anesthesia. The anesthesiologist will carefully watch your child and keep him or her safely and comfortably asleep during the procedure.
The surgeon will make a small hole in each eardrum and remove fluid from the middle ear using suction. Because the surgeon can reach the eardrum through the ear canal, there are no visible cuts or stitches.
The surgeon will finish by putting the small metal or plastic tube into the hole in the eardrum.
Ear tube surgery usually takes about 10 to 15 minutes.
Your child will wake up in the recovery area. In most cases, the total time spent in the hospital is a few hours. Very young children or those with other medical problems may stay longer.
Your child may vomit a little on the day of the surgery or have a minor earache. Some children’s ears will pop when they burp, yawn, or chew. This should go away as the eardrum heals.
Ear tubes help prevent ear infections by allowing air into the middle ear. Other substances, such as water, may sometimes enter through the tube, but this is rarely a problem. Your surgeon might recommend earplugs for bathing or swimming.
It’s OK for your child to travel in airplanes after having ear tubes placed. The ear tubes will help even out air pressure inside and outside the ear.
Ear tubes won’t prevent all ear infections, but they can make them milder and happen less often. In some cases, the tubes might need to be put in again.
In most cases, surgery to remove an ear tube isn’t necessary. The tube usually falls out on its own, pushed out as the eardrum heals. A tube generally stays in the ear anywhere from 6 months to 18 months, depending on the type of tube used.
If the tube stays in the eardrum beyond 2 to 3 years, though, your doctor might choose to remove it surgically.
This is a very common and safe procedure, although there are risks with any surgery, including infection, bleeding, and problems with anesthesia.
Rarely, the hole in the eardrum does not close after the tube comes out, and might need to be fixed surgically.
Call the doctor if:
See the doctor right away or go the emergency room if there is a lot of blood in the ear drainage or if the ear pain is severe.
Ear infections are common among kids and, often, painful. Find out what causes them and how they’re treated.
A “popped” eardrum is more than just painful – it can sometimes lead to hearing loss. Learn about ruptured eardrums and how to prevent them.
Tympanoplasty is a surgery to repair a hole in the eardrum that doesnât close on its own. It can improve hearing and prevent water from getting into the middle ear.
Find out what the experts have to say.
Good preparation can help your child feel less anxious about getting surgery. Kids of all ages cope much better if they have an idea of what’s going to happen and why.
Knowing the basics of anesthesia may help answer your questions and ease some concerns â both yours and your child’s.
Hearing problems can be overcome if they’re caught early, so it’s important to get your child’s hearing screened early and checked regularly.
An earache requires a visit to the doctor’s office. Here’s what to do if your child complains of ear pain.
Hearing may be the ears’ main job, but it’s not all they do. Learn all about the ears in this Body Basics article.
Hearing impairment occurs when there’s a problem with or damage to one or more parts of the ear. Find out its causes and what can be done to help correct it.
Swimmer’s ear is an infection of the ear canal that can be caused by different types of bacteria or fungi. Find out how to prevent or treat it.
Surgeries and operations happen in the operating room, sometimes called the OR. Find out more in this article for kids.
It may seem scary to go to a hospital, but doctors and nurses are there to help people who are sick or hurt feel better. Read our article for kids to find out what happens inside a hospital.
A middle ear infection happens when germs like bacteria and viruses get in your middle ear and cause trouble. Read this article to find out more.
You swam! You splashed! And now you have it: swimmer’s ear.
Ear injuries not only can affect a child’s hearing, but sense of balance too. That’s because our ears also help keep us steady on our feet.
The ears gather sounds from our environment and turn them into messages for the brain to decode. Learn more in this video about the ears.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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