Ear tubes, pneumatic ventilation tubes, or myringotomy tubes are all small tubes that are placed in a tiny hole in the ear drum to equalize pressure between the middle ear and the outside world or to drain fluid from the middle ear.
The ear tubes replace the function of the Eustachian tube, the tube that runs from the middle ear space to the back of the nasopharynx (the area behind the nose at the top of the throat). This tube normally stays closed but opens up when you need to equalize pressure in the middle ear or drain fluid (often one hears a popping sound, especially on airplane flights or fast elevators).
For most adults, the Eustachian tube has an incline which allows gravity to help move fluid out of the middle ear and deters infections from climbing up to the ear from the nose. For small children, the Eustachian tube is almost parallel with the ground and is much shorter than in the adult, making its job more difficult. If a child has a lot of ear infections or does not clear infections well between antibiotic treatments, then the child may actually have a conductive hearing loss. Any hearing loss during the critical time of speech development can impair learning and speaking ability. Therefore early intervention with ear tubes is often recommended.
Some adults with Eustachian tube dysfunction, chronic ear infections, or persistent fluid with hearing loss may also need ear tubes as well.
Most ear tubes remain in the ear anywhere from 6 months to 2 years. Usually they fall out on their own, but occasionally they need to be removed. The procedure does not generally cause pain. Now that there is a permanent hole in the ear drum, you should keep the ear very dry and avoid getting water into the ear or introducing infection into the ear. Once the tubes fall out, the ear drum usually heals up entirely but sometimes a persistent perforation remains. Until it is healed, dry ear precautions must still be enforced.
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