7 Things to Know About Ear Tube Surgery

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Sarah Lewis, PharmD on November 8, 2021
  • Examining ear with otoscope
    Get a closer look at ear tube surgery.
    If you or your child has frequent ear infections or problems related to chronic ear infections, you may be interested in ear tube surgery. Ear tube surgery is the placement of tiny hollow cylinders in the eardrum—or tympanic membrane—in the middle ear. Another name for the procedure is tympanostomy tube placement. The more you know about ear tube surgery, the better prepared you’ll be to discuss the benefits and risks with your doctor.
  • Teacher Watching Over Toddlers
    1. Ear tube surgery is one of the most common childhood surgeries.
    Doctors perform more than half a million ear tube surgeries each year. Most of these surgeries are for children who suffer from recurrent ear infections or have chronic fluid buildup in the middle ear. However, adults and teens sometimes need this surgery as well. Most kids have this surgery when they are quite young—from 1 to 3 years of age.
     
  • Ear Infection
    2. Ear tube surgery may be the solution for frequent ear infections.
    Almost every child has had an ear infection at some point. And most respond to treatment, including antibiotics if necessary. Ear infections become a problem when they occur frequently. This means three or more in six months, or four or more in a year. Your doctor may recommend ear tube placement if your child meets this criteria. The surgery can also help ear infection-related problems, including fluid buildup, hearing loss, speech or balance problems, and sleep or behavior problems.
     
  • Doctor examining child
    3. Ear tube surgery is a simple procedure.
    It’s unsettling to know your child needs surgery. The good news is ear tube surgery is usually a simple procedure. It takes about 15 minutes for a surgeon to create a hole in each eardrum and place the tubes. You’ll be in the recovery room with your child before you know it. And you can take your child home soon after the anesthesia effects wear off. Most kids have little to no pain afterwards, but they may pull on their ears.
     
  • Ear Infection Inspection
    4. Ear tubes aren’t permanent.
    There are two types of ear tubes—short-term and long-term. But neither of them is permanent. Short-term tubes generally fall out by themselves after 6 to 12 months. Most of the time, you won’t know if they’ve fallen out or not. Your doctor will check them every few months to see if they are still in place. Long-term tubes can fall out by themselves, but it’s more likely your doctor will need to remove them. The hole in the eardrum will heal on its own over a few weeks.
     
  • Happy friends having fun at amusement park
    5. Ear tubes are safe.
    Ear tube surgery isn’t just a simple procedure; it’s also very safe. Very few children have complications from ear tubes. And when they occur, they are usually minor. Having the ear tube in place is also safe. Your child can touch his or her ears. It’s not possible for kids to reach far enough into the ear to bother the tubes.
     
  • child under covers
    6. Your child can still get ear infections.
    Ear tubes reduce the risk of getting ear infections. They help the ear stay healthy by allowing air to reach the middle ear. But they don’t prevent ear infections. About 25% of kids with ear tubes still get infections. The number rises to 35% for those in day care. Luckily, ear infections after ear tube placement are usually easier to treat and cause fewer problems, such as hearing loss.
     
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    7. Some children need another set of ear tubes.
    Ear problems return in some kids after the ear tubes fall out. These kids often need another set of ear tubes. This happens about 25% of the time. When it does, doctors usually recommend removing the adenoids as well. Your adenoids are lymph tissues that sit high in your throat, behind your nose. Removing them can help decrease the chance of needing yet another ear tube surgery. In fact, some doctors recommend removing the adenoids with the first ear tube placement. The adenoids are part of the immune system, but they aren’t essential.
     
7 Things to Know About Ear Tube Surgery
Ear Tube Surgery

About The Author

Sarah Lewis is a pharmacist and a medical writer with over 25 years of experience in various areas of pharmacy practice. Sarah holds a Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy degree from West Virginia University and a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from Massachusetts College of Pharmacy. She completed Pharmacy Practice Residency training at the University of Pittsburgh/VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System. 
  1. Ear Tube FAQ Page. Akron Children’s Hospital. http://inside.akronchildrens.org/ear-tube-faq-page/ 
  2. Ear Tubes. American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. http://www.entnet.org/HealthInformation/Ear-Tubes.cfm   
  3. Ear Tubes. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. http://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/ear-tubes/basics/definition/prc-20013911  
  4. Middle Ear Infections: Diagnosis and Treatment. KidsHealth. http://kidshealth.org/parent/infections/bacterial_viral/otitis_media.html#  
  5. Middle Ear Infections and Ear Tube Surgery. KidsHealth. http://kidshealth.org/parent/medical/ears/ear_infections.html 
  6. Post-Op Instructions: Ear Tubes. University of Texas. http://www.utmb.edu/oto/sections/pediatric/education/ear_tubes_post_op_instructions.asp
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Last Review Date: 2021 Nov 8
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.