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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 they:
A cold or some other upper respiratory infection can cause the eustachian tubes to swell, blocking the normal drainage from the middle ear. The fluid buildup can lower your or your child's ability to hear. And the warm, moist environment makes it easy for bacteria and viruses to grow, causing an ear infection.
A small cut (incision) is made in the eardrum to allow fluid to drain.
Fluid from the middle ear drains through the incision into the ear canal and is suctioned out by the doctor.
The temporary tube is placed into the eardrum incision to prevent fluid from building up again.
Tubes can be inserted in an outpatient surgery clinic. Children usually recover quickly and have little pain or other symptoms after surgery. Most children go home within 1 to 2 hours after the surgery. Your child will probably be able to go back to school or child care the next day.
Follow-up visits to the doctor are very important. The doctor checks to see if the tubes are working and if the child's hearing has improved.
Ask the 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. Find out what your doctor recommends.
Tubes normally stay in the ears for 6 to 18 months. They often fall out on their own. 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 keep fluid from building up behind the eardrum. And they decrease the feeling of pressure in the ears, which reduces pain. Doctors consider surgery to insert tubes:
Ear tube surgery works well to release blocked fluid and to prevent buildup of pressure and fluid in the middle ear. This can help a child hear better.
Tubes may prevent some ear infections. And if a child who has ear tubes gets an ear infection, they will usually have less pain.
Possible problems include:
Current as of: March 1, 2023
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Susan C. Kim MD - Pediatrics & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & John Pope MD - Pediatrics
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