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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:
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.
Other Works ConsultedRosenfeld 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 15, 2020
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Susan C. Kim MD - Pediatrics & Thomas M. Bailey MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Charles M. Myer III MD - Otolaryngology & John Pope MD - Pediatrics
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