Ear Tubes

Note: This article focuses on ear tube insertion in children. However, most of the information could also apply to adults with similar symptoms or problems.

What are ear tubes and what purpose do they serve?

Ear tube insertion involves placing tubes through the eardrums. The eardrum is the thin layer of tissue that separates the outer and middle ear.

Buildup of fluid in child’s eardrum could possibly mean the need for ear tube insertion. The surgical procedure of ear tube insertion initially drains out excess fluid during the procedure itself, and then the tube prevents further buildup from occurring over the long term. Usually, after a few years the ear tubes fall out naturally, and by then the  child is past the point in time where fluid buildup can occur. In some cases, if the tubes have not fallen out on their own, another surgical procedure may be required. If ear infections return after the tubes fall out, another set of ear tubes can be inserted.

In what cases would a child need ear tubes to be inserted?

A child would need to have ear tubes inserted when:

The fluid that has built up does not go away after three months and both ears are affected, or

When fluid is only in one ear and does not go away in six months’ time.

The buildup of fluid behind a child’s eardrum can cause hearing loss. Fortunately, most children don’t have long-term damage to their hearing or speech, even when the fluid is there for many months.

Chronic ear infections and ear infections that do not go away with treatment are also reasons for placing an ear tube.

Ear tubes are also sometimes used for people of any age who have:

A severe ear infection that spreads to nearby bones (mastoiditis) or the brain, or that damages nearby nerves.

Injury to the ear after sudden changes in pressure from flying or deep sea diving.

After this procedure, most parents report that their children:

Have fewer ear infections
Recover more quickly from infections