When your child has an ear infection, extra fluid can build up behind the ear drum inside the middle ear. If this fluid repeatedly gets infected, your doctor may recommend that your child get tubes inserted into the ear drum to allow the fluid to drain.
Ear infections are a common part of growing up. In fact, by age five, almost every child has had at least one painful ear infection. For most children, these infections either clear up on their own or are easily treated with antibiotics. But when ear infections become chronic or happen repeatedly, other problems can develop including hearing loss and problems with behavior and speech. In these situations, inserting tubes in the ear drum may help.
Ear tubes are most often recommended for young children between the ages of one and three years old. Each year, more than 500-thousand ear tube surgeries are performed on children, making this the most common childhood surgery performed with anesthesia. This procedure can also be used to help teens and adults with speech and balance problems, hearing loss, and changes in the structure of the ear drum.
What are ear tubes?
Ear tubes are tiny plastic or metal cylinders. They are also sometimes called drainage tubes, tympanostomy tubes, or ventilation tubes. A doctor who specializes in treating the Ears, Nose, and Throat (Otolaryngologist or ENT) will perform the surgery. Your child will receive a light anesthetic to help him sleep during the procedure, which only takes about 15 minutes. Using a tiny scalpel or laser, the doctor makes a small hole in the ear drum and suctions out the fluid from the middle ear. He then inserts the tube into the hole in the ear drum. Ear tubes typically remain in place from 6 months to a year. In young children, these tubes often fall out on their own as the ear drum grows. If the tube doesn’t fall out, it may be necessary to surgically remove it.
How do ear tubes work?
When the middle ear becomes infected, fluid can build up inside the middle ear. This causes pressure that makes the ear hurt.