Learning About Ear Tube Surgery

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Temporary ear tube inserted in eardrum, showing fluid from middle ear draining into ear canal.

What is ear tube surgery?

Ear tubes are used to treat frequent ear infections, usually in young children. A tube can be placed in one or both ears. It is one of the most common childhood operations.

Ear tubes are made of hollow plastic and are shaped like a very small spool of thread. The doctor makes a small hole in the eardrum, and then puts an ear tube through the hole. Children who have ear infections usually have fluid buildup behind the eardrum. This causes pain and can also cause hearing loss. The ear tubes allow fluid to drain from the inside of the ear. This reduces pressure, relieves pain, and restores hearing. Allowing the fluid to drain also prevents the growth of bacteria that cause ear infections.

Doctors consider putting in ear tubes if a child has a lot of ear infections or when a child has fluid buildup in the ears for 3 to 4 months and has some hearing loss.

How is ear tube surgery done?

Ear tube placement is done in a hospital or clinic.

Your child will be asleep during the surgery. The doctor will make a small cut in the eardrum. The doctor will use a small suction tool to gently remove any fluid that drains into the ear canal. Then the ear tube is placed through the hole made in the eardrum.

What can you expect after ear tube surgery?

Most children go home within 1 to 2 hours after the surgery. They usually have little pain after the operation. Your child will probably be able to go back to school or day care the next day.

Your child won't have any visible scars from the surgery.

The tubes usually stay in for 6 to 12 months and fall out on their own as the child grows.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

Where can you learn more?

Go to http://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.