Ear Tubes

What are ear tubes?

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.

Why do I need ear tubes?

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.

What are the benefits of ear tubes?

  • Reduction in the frequency of ear infections and need for antibiotics
  • Removing fluid from the middle ear and improving hearing
  • Equalizing pressure in the middle ear

What are the possible risks of ear tubes?

  • No improvement in symptoms (continued ear infections, hearing loss)
  • Ear drainage
  • Tympanic membrane (ear drum) perforation

What should I expect after surgery?

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.

Related Newsletter/Articles

Related Newsletter Article - Myringotomy with Tympanostomy Tube Placement April 2007

Related Newsletter Article - Alternative to Ear Tube Surgery April 2007

Related Newsletter Article - Keeping Water out of Ears April 2007

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