What to Expect After Ear Tube Surgery

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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Ear tube surgery is one of the most common childhood surgeries. The procedure treats recurrent ear infections and other middle ear problems, such as hearing loss from fluid buildup. While adults and teens sometimes need ear tube surgery, most patients are 1 to 3 years old. As a parent, knowing what to expect after ear tube surgery can help ease the stress of your child having surgery.

Immediately After Surgery

Ear tube surgery is a quick procedure. It takes about 15 minutes for a surgeon to create a hole in each eardrum and place the tubes. But your child will need anesthesia so they sleep during the procedure. The doctor will probably come to talk with you right after surgery, but you’ll need to wait until your child is waking up to go to the recovery room. After the anesthesia has completely worn off, you’ll be able to take your child home.

When You’re Home

Most kids have little to no pain after ear tube surgery. They will not feel the tubes, but you may notice your child pulling at his or her ears. This isn’t a sign of infection and is usually temporary. It’s okay for your child to touch his or her ears. They won’t be able to reach far enough in the ear to bother the tubes. If you think your child is in pain or something isn’t right, call your doctor.

Recovery time is usually minimal after ear tube surgery. Your doctor may prescribe or recommend:

  • Antibiotic ear drops for a few days after surgery

  • Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as infant’s or children’s acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin)

Follow-up Appointments 

You’ll need to schedule follow-up appointments as your doctor recommends. These appointments may include:

  • Ear exams to check the tubes and make sure they are still in place

  • Hearing tests if your child had hearing loss before surgery

Long-Term Expectations

Ear tubes aren’t permanent. They will fall out by themselves or your doctor will remove them eventually. Most ear tubes fall out within a year. Some must remain in place for longer periods. After they are out, the hole in the eardrum normally heals over a few weeks.

Ear tube surgery is very safe. Few children have complications from ear tubes. And when they occur, they are usually minor. Having the ear tube in place is also safe. 

But keep in mind:

  • Ear tubes reduce the risk of ear infections, but they don’t prevent them. About 25% of kids—35% if they’re in day care—will still get ear infections. But they tend to be easier to treat and cause fewer problems, such as hearing loss.

  • Your doctor may recommend using earplugs for bathing, swimming, and other water activities; however, not all doctors agree this is necessary. Check with your doctor and follow his or her recommendations.

  • About 25% of kids will need another set of ear tubes after the first set falls out. If this happens, your doctor may recommend removing your child’s adenoids as well. The adenoid glands are located high in the throat behind the nose. Your doctor needs special tools to see them. Adenoids help fight off infections, but sometimes they get infected themselves and cause ear, nose and throat problems. Some doctors recommend removing the adenoids with the first ear tube placement to decrease the risk of needing another set of tubes.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Nov 8
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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.
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  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