Ear Tubes

Medically Reviewed by Dr. K on 14 April 2021

Table of Contents :

  1. What Are Ear Tubes?
  2. Chronic Ear Infections
  3. When to Treat Chronic Ear Infections
  4. Treating Ear Problems with Ear Tubes
  5. How Ear Tubes Work
  6. Ear Tube Surgery
  7. Risks of Ear Tube Surgery
  8. Ear Tube Surgery Recovery

Ear Tubes


What Are Ear Tubes?


Ear tubes are very thin metal or silicone tubes that a doctor implants into the child's ears to cause fluid or pus to escape, which helps to minimise the amount of ear infections. Tympanostomy tubes, breathing tubes, myringotomy tubes, and pressure equalisation tubes are some of the other terms for them. 


They resemble a sliver of a very small drinking straw. They're normally built of metal or plastic, and they're round and hollow. 


Your doctor will cut a tiny hole in your eardrum and insert a tube to let air into your middle ear. 


By the age of five, almost all children have had at least one ear infection. However, if they arise often or if your child suffers from hearing loss as a result of fluid build-up, your doctor can recommend ear tubes. 

They will offer comfort for your child if other treatments aren't working. They also help to avoid long-term hearing issues.

Chronic Ear Infections


Viruses or bacteria may collect in the middle ear, which is the area just below the eardrum. Since their bodies are already evolving, children get more ear infections than adults. 


The Eustachian tubes, which remove fluid from the ear, are narrower and almost level with the ground in children. That means they don't drain as much as they used to, except though they are young and healthy. 


It's much harder when the Eustachian tubes swell or fill with mucus, as may happen during a cold. It provides ideal conditions for bacteria to flourish, potentially leading to infection. And for certain children, it occurs more often. 


Fluid builds up in the middle ear through an illness. This causes discomfort and strain. Some of the signs and symptoms are mentioned below:

  • Fluid coming from the ear
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Increased fussiness or crying than normal, especially when lying down
  • Seeming clumsy or having trouble with balance
  • Tugging at an ear


When to Treat Chronic Ear Infections


Your doctor may advise you to wait and see what happens. A normal infection, particularly one caused by a virus, usually goes away on its own. Antibiotics are often used to treat bacterial infections in children. 


However, certain children have a lot of ear infections, which don't often go away quickly. It usually does not trigger long-term issues, but repeated instances may lead to:

  • Delays in the learning of speech and the development of social skills
  • Hearing loss
  • Infection spreading to other parts of the head
  • Tears, or openings, in the eardrum


Treating Ear Problems with Ear Tubes


Your child's requirement for tubes is determined by their infection background. If your child has a lot of them, your doctor can recommend tubes:

  • Three or more in 6 months
  • Four or more in a year


Tubes are more often provided to children for the following reasons:

  • A build-up of fluid behind the eardrum.
  • Antibiotics that haven't helped long-term infections.
  • Fluid buildup that causes hearing loss, even if there’s no infection
  • A persistent ear infection that causes tearing or a hole in the eardrum over time.


How Ear Tubes Work


Your eustachian tubes, which stretch from your middle ear to high in the back of your mouth, provide natural airflow to your ears. The opening and closing of the tube in your throat allows you to:

  • Stabilize air pressure.
  • Refresh the ear's air supply.
  • Drain the liquid.


Ear tubes serve as a little opening for the ear when swelling or mucus prevent normal ventilation from functioning. They have a different approach to help air circulate into and out of the ear, resulting in more balanced pressure and improved ear drainage. 


Fluid won't build up as easily with proper ventilation, and bacteria won't have such a welcoming environment. 


If your child has hearing loss as a result of fluid buildup, that can go away until the tubes are in place. In the weeks and months ahead, you'll most definitely see improvement in developmental delays.

Ear Tube Surgery


The hospital would most certainly give you directions prior to your child's operation. You'll be asked for the following information:

  • Medications that your child is taking.
  • A family medical history, including anaesthesia reactions.
  • An allergy list, especially to antibiotics or medicines.


The operation would be performed by an ear, nose, and throat surgeon. The majority of children are anaesthetized during the process and are unaware of what is going on. 


The insertion of an ear canal requires approximately 15 minutes. During the procedure, the surgeon:

  • A scalpel or laser is used to make a little cut in the eardrum.
  • Suction is used to remove fluids from the middle ear.
  • Inserts the tube in the hole in the eardrum


Your child will be taken to a treatment area until the procedure is over so that nurses and physicians will ensure there were no complications. If all goes right, you should be able to pick up your child in a few hours. 


Children will be groggy and nauseated for the remainder of the day after surgery and anaesthesia. After 24 hours, they should be back to normal. 


Your doctor will arrange a follow-up consultation 2 or 4 weeks following the operation to ensure that the tubes remain in the proper position and are functioning properly.

Risks of Ear Tube Surgery


Ear tube operation is a relatively simple technique with little risks. Your child, on the other hand, may have:

  • Bleeding or infection
  • Scars or weakness in the eardrum
  • Tubes that fall out
  • Drainage of ear fluid that does not stop
  • Blockages in the tubes from blood or mucus
  • Eardrums that don’t close after tubes are removed


Following anaesthesia, certain children can experience the following issues:

  • An allergic reaction
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Heart rate abnormalities
  • Nausea or vomiting


If your child develops any of the below symptoms when recovering, see the doctor.

  • Yellow, brown, or bloody ear discharge for more than a week
  • Pain
  • Hearing problems
  • Balance problems


Ear Tube Surgery Recovery


Some ear tubes are often used for a limited time. They normally stay in for 6 to 18 months before falling out on their own. Others are made to stay in for longer periods of time. They can fall out on their own or need surgical removal by a specialist. 

As the tubes are removed, the eardrum's opening normally shuts on its own.


Referenced on  9.4.2021

  1. American Academy of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery: “Ear Tubes.”
  2. Mayo Clinic: “Ear infection (middle ear),” “Ear Tubes.”
  3. NIH, National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, “Ear Infections in Children.”
  4. Nationwide Children’s Hospital: “Ear Tubes.”
  5. https://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/ear-infection/child-need-tubes-ear-infection

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