Children often get middle ear infections, but when they cause speech delays, hearing problems, or fluid buildup that refuses to go away with simple treatment, your family physician may suggest ear tube surgery. By inserting an ear tube, they may be able to equalize the pressure in the eardrum.
Ear tube insertion, also known as myringotomy, involves making a tiny incision in the eardrum to remove thickened fluid. The plastic tube, called a tympanostomy tube, is placed in the eardrum to keep your child’s middle ear aerated. The doctor will then remove the ventilating tube between six months to several years later during a routine office visit if they don’t fall out on their own.
According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology, other conditions that may require ear tube insertion are barotrauma (when a reduction of air pressure causes injury to the middle ear), cleft palate, Down’s syndrome, or a malformation of the Eustachian tube or eardrum.
Complications and Risks Involved
Ear tube surgery is very common, but sometimes minor complications can happen. Up to 50 percent of children who receive them may have some small related issues. These include:
- A foreign body or allergic reaction to the tube itself
- A need to protect the ear from water
- Ear canal material or skin tissue gets trapped in the eardrum
- Eardrum scarring
- Loss of hearing
- Infection of the surgery site
- Chronic ear drainage
- Eardrum perforation after the tube falls out
- Eardrum thickening that can cause hearing loss in some patients
- Unresolved ear infections
Before the Procedure
Surgery is normally performed as an outpatient procedure, so your child can usually return home the same day. It will be completed at an outpatient surgery center or hospital, with an anesthesiologist monitoring your child through the entire procedure. Anesthesiologists will review your child’s medical history before starting, so be sure to have any preoperative laboratory studies your doctor ordered done a few days in advance.
Your child must fast for six to 12 hours before surgery; this includes chewing gum and water. Having something in their stomach during surgery can lead to an anesthetic complication.
During the Procedure
Before entering the operating room, your child may receive medication to help him or her relax. Once they’re on the table, the anesthesiologist will use a mixture of intravenous medication and gas to sedate them. The procedure itself takes around 10 to 15 minutes, during which your child will be monitored for cardiac rhythm and pulse oximeter. A surgical technician and nurse will be standing by in case of an emergency.
After your child is sedated, the doctor will use an operating microscope to make a tiny eardrum incision through the outer ear canal. Your child will have no noticeable external incisions or stitches. Their surgeon will suction fluid from the ear and insert the tube. After that, drops will be added, and the ear canal will be plugged with cotton.
After the Procedure
When surgery is complete, your child will be transferred to a recovery room where they’ll be monitored by a nurse until they wake. The child can generally go home the same day after they’ve recovered from the anesthesia. This takes around an hour.
After your child is fully recovered, they may eat normally. However, it’s best to feed them slowly even if they are hungry immediately after the procedure. Some children suffer from nausea or vomiting after surgery or if they eat too much too quickly following the procedure. If the vomiting continues, talk to your doctor about prescribing medication to settle your child’s stomach.
If your child frequently shows symptoms of ear infections, it may be time to discuss ear tube surgery with your family physician. Oklahoma Otolaryngology Associates’ reputation is built upon the knowledge and skills of our surgical team. Call us today to learn more or schedule a consultation.