According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS), most children have had at least one painful ear infection before the age of 5. Most ear infections go away on their own or can be treated with antibiotics. For recurring chronic ear infections, a doctor may recommend your child have an ear tube inserted into his ear.
What Exactly Are Ear Tubes?
Also known as PE (pressure equalization), myringotomy, tympanostomy or ventilation tubes, ear tubes are small cylinders placed in the ear drum to allow air into the middle ear. There are short-term and long-term ear tubes.
Short-term ear tubes stay in in the ear for six to 12 months and then fall out on their own. Long-term ear tubes are larger and have flanges that keep them in place for longer periods of time. They may also fall out on their own, but sometimes a doctor has to remove long-term ear tubes.
When Ear Tubes May Be Necessary
Ear tubes are usually recommend for patients who have recurrent ear infections or hearing loss caused by fluid in the middle ear. An ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist may also recommend an ear tube for the following conditions:
- Cleft palate
- Down Syndrome
- Deformed ear drum or eustacian tube
- Middle ear injury caused by reduction in air pressure (associated with scuba diving or flying on an airplane)
How Ear Tubes Are Inserted
Ear tube surgery, called a myringotomy, is performed under general anesthesia. The doctor uses a scalpel or laser to cut a hole in the ear drum. After suctioning out any fluid in the middle ear, he inserts an ear tube in the hole to keep it open and allow air to reach the middle ear. A myringotomy typically lasts no longer than 15 minutes.
After the procedure, the patient is monitored in the recovery room. If there are no complications, the patient can go home after one or two hours. Patients usually experience very little to no post-op pain, but they may be temporarily groggy or nauseous from the anesthesia.
There are potential risks associated with ear tube surgery, as with any type of surgery. These include:
- Permanent perforation of the ear drum
- Hearing loss
- Injury to other areas of the ear
- The myringotomy incision does not heal properly, resulting in frequent drainage
Ear tubes may restore hearing loss caused by middle ear fluid and reduce the risk of future ear infections. In addition, balance, speech and even sleep problems caused by chronic ear infections may also improve. If you think ear tubes may help your child, talk to an ENT specialist.