Ear tubes (Myringotomy tubes)

Myringotomy tubes (also called ear tubes) are small tubes that are surgically placed into a child's eardrum by an Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) specialist (also known as an otolaryngologist) under a general anesthesia.

Ear tube placement is one of the most common surgical procedures done in children. If a child has frequent ear infections or has hearing or speech problems related to fluid and infections in the ears, surgical insertion of an ear tube by an ENT specialist may be considered.

How do I know when it's time to consider ear tubes for my child?

Specific criteria for ear tube placement is 3 ear infections in 6 months, or 4 in a year (with at least one of those being in the last 6 months), plus presence of fluid in the middle ear on exam. Another indication is middle ear fluid (otitis media with effusion) that is present for greater than 3 months in both ears and associated with hearing loss.

How do ear tubes help?

  • Reducing the chance of your child getting ear infections
  • Helping drain fluid from behind the eardrum that might be present after ear infections
  • Helping restore normal hearing to your child. Hearing is sometimes affected by the fluid from infections and tubes help prevent this hearing loss.

What happens after ear tube placement?

Your child should have less ear infections with tubes in place. Any liquid or drainage from the ears is not normal with tubes in place. This may be clear, white, yellow or bloody. This means your child has an ear infection. One benefit of ear tubes is that ear infections then can be treated with antibiotic ear drops instead of an oral antibiotic. The tubes normally stay in place for 12 to 18 months. Your child will not be able to feel the ear tube. It will not affect hearing. Eventually the ear drum pushes the tube out on its own, which does not hurt.

We will initially see your child a few weeks after the surgery to check the tubes. Your child may also have a hearing test at that visit. Routine visits are then done every 4-6 months to make sure that the tubes are working like they should and that no other problems have occurred.

Can my child swim with ear tubes:

Yes, a child can swim when they have ear tubes. Most often, ear plugs are only needed for "dirty" water. This includes lakes, ponds, and water parks. You do not need ear plugs for bath water, showers, chlorinated pools, or oceans. You can buy ear putty at most pharmacies, and one of our ENT clinic staff can fit your child for ear plugs if needed.

What is the long term outlook on otitis media?

Fortunately, following the placement of ear tubes, most children do very well. The chances of a complication from acute otitis media is very low since we have very good antibiotics to treat infections. Most children will outgrow ear infections around the age of 4. If a child does need ear tubes placed, in general there is only about a 1/5 chance that they will need a second set of ear tubes.

Evaluation and tests

If your child is sent to ENT for an evaluation for ear tubes due to recurrent ear infections or chronic fluid on the ears (otitis media with effusion), one of our ENT providers will obtain a focused history about their ear infections. We will get a very good look at the ears. At the post-operative visit, a hearing test will be done.

Video: After ear tube surgery education

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