What is Ear Tube Insertion?
An ear tube insertion is when a doctor inserts tiny tubes, known as tympanostomy tubes or grommets, into the eardrum to reduce the occurrence of ear infections and allow drainage of excess fluids. The procedure is very common and poses minimal risks. An ear tube insertion is more common for children, who tend to suffer ear infections more often than adults.
When is Ear Tube Insertion needed?
The procedure is usually performed because of bacteria that travel from the nasal cavity into the ear during a cold or other respiratory ailment. This influx of bacteria stimulates inflammation and causes a fluid buildup behind the eardrum.
Adults can also get ear infections, but children get them more frequently because they have smaller eustachian tubes that are more likely to clog.
Ear infections will often go away with time, but antibiotics can treat them effectively as well. Sometimes, however, a person will experience recurrent ear infections and fluid buildup, or have an ear infection that won’t heal for months. These issues can cause problems that may lead to hearing loss, behavioral issues, and speech development delays in children.
Individuals who suffer from severe ear infections that spread to nearby tissues and bones, or experience a pressure injury from flying or deep sea diving may also require an ear tube insertion.
What should you know before undergoing Ear Tube Insertion?
Not everyone can safely undergo this procedure. Observation and medical management are typically the first steps of treatment. Your ENT specialist will help you decide when, and if, ear tubes are the best option for you or your child.
What are the complications and side effects?
Ear tube placement is a relatively safe procedure with a low risk of serious complications. Possible risks include:
- Bleeding and infection
- Persistent drainage of fluid
- Blocked tubes from blood, mucus or other secretions
- Scarring or weakening of the eardrum
- Tubes falling out too early or staying in too long
- Failure of eardrum to close after the tube falls out or is removed
Surgery for ear tube placement usually requires general anesthesia, which carries some risks as well. Although the risks of anesthesia are very low in otherwise healthy children, possible problems include:
- Allergic reaction
- Breathing difficulties
- Heart irregularities
- Nausea or vomiting after the procedure
It is important you understand the precautions and know the possible complication and side effects before having this Ear Tube Insertion. If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor or surgeon for more information.
How do I prepare for Ear Tube Insertion?
If your child is the one who will undergo this procedure, you’ll receive instructions from the hospital on how to prepare your child for surgery to place ear tubes.
Information to provide may include:
- All medications your child takes regularly
- Your child’s history or family history of adverse reactions to anesthetics
- Known allergy or other negative reactions to medications, such as antibiotics
Questions to ask your doctor or the hospital staff:
When does my child need to start fasting?
- What drugs can he or she take before surgery?
- When should we arrive at the hospital?
- Where do we need to check in?
- What is the expected recovery time?
- How will the anesthetic be administered — with a face mask, injection or intravenous (IV) line — and who will administer it?
Tips for helping your child prepare include:
- Start talking about the hospital visit a few days before the procedure.
- Explain that the procedure will help make his or her ears feel better or make it easier to hear.
- Explain that a special medicine will help him or her sleep during the surgery.
- Let your child pick out a favorite comfort toy, such as a blanket or stuffed animal, that you can take to the hospital.
- Explain that you will be there during the procedure.
What happens during Ear Tube Insertion?
For the insertion, an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat doctor) places tiny plastic or metal tubes in the eardrum. Once inside the ear, these tubes will:
- Reduce pressure. Ear infections and fluid buildup increase pressure inside the ear, which is what causes pain. Ear tubes allow air to enter the ear, equalizing the pressure between the inner ear and the outside world. This eases pain and helps prevent accumulation of liquid in the middle ear.
- Drain fluid. Ear tubes allow pus and mucus buildup from ear infections to drain out of the ear without causing pain or increasing the risk of related complications.
- Prepare the ear for treatment drops. Tubes also make it easier to use antibiotic drops in the ears to treat infections. The tubes function as a passageway, permitting the drops to travel directly into the ear. Because they make antibiotic drops easier to use, the tubes can eliminate the need for oral antibiotic treatment.
Ear tube insertion, also called myringotomy and tympanostomy tube placement, is a very common procedure performed under general anesthesia. During the procedure, the patient is asleep and breathing on their own. The surgical team monitors heart rate, blood pressure, and blood oxygen throughout the surgery.
The actual surgery takes only about 10 to 15 minutes. During this time, the surgeon performs the following steps:
- Makes an incision. The surgeon makes a tiny incision in the eardrum with a small scalpel or laser. If left alone, this incision would close and heal within a few days.
- Removes fluid. Using a tiny vacuum, the surgeon suctions out any excess fluids from the middle ear, cleaning out the area. This is called aspiration of the middle ear. Your doctor will determine if this step is necessary.
- Inserts the tube. To allow air to enter your ear and to drain fluids, the surgeon inserts the tiny tube into the hole made by the incision. The surgeon may place short-term tubes, which are smaller and remain in the ear for 6 to 12 months before falling out on their own, or long-term tubes, which are larger and typically stay in place for a longer period of time.
What happens after Ear Tube Insertion?
After surgery, your child is moved to a recovery room where the health care team watches for complications from the surgery and anesthesia. If there aren’t any complications, your child will be able to go home within a few hours.
Your child will likely be sleepy and irritable for the rest of the day and possibly nauseated from the anesthetic. In most cases, children resume regular activities within 24 hours of the surgery.
Hearing loss caused by fluid in the middle ear is immediately resolved by surgery.
If you have any questions or concerns, please consult with your doctor or surgeon for more information.
What should you do after Ear Tube Insertion?
Your doctor may also recommend covering the ear when bathing or swimming to help reduce the risk of bacteria entering the middle ear. Earplugs and other watertight devices work well.
Otherwise, the ear will heal by itself, securing the tubes in place until they eventually fall out. If the tubes fall out prematurely, be sure to contact your doctor.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Ear Tube Insertion. https://www.healthline.com/health/ear-tube-insertion. Accessed October 19, 2018.
Ear Tubes. https://www.enthealth.org/be_ent_smart/ear-tubes/. Accessed October 19, 2018.
Ear tubes. https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/ear-tubes/about/pac-20384667. Accessed October 19, 2018.
Review Date: November 12, 2018 | Last Modified: September 13, 2019