Ear tube surgery (tympanostomy tubes)

Ear tube surgery for children is a relatively common procedure. However, surgery is not the first choice for treating middle ear infections.

Dr Miller might suggest surgery if antibiotics do not help. Surgery might also help if your child has frequent ear infections as well as hearing loss or speech delay.

How it works

The surgery involves draining fluid from the middle ear. Dr Miller then inserts a tiny metal or plastic ventilation tube in one or both ears.

The tube is a pressure equalisation (PE) tube, or tympanostomy tube. It is also known as a grommet. The tube will help prevent infection. It also helps to stop fluid build-up so that your child’s hearing can improve.

Tympanostomy tubes do not harm hearing. They can greatly reduce the number of future ear infections.

In-hospital procedure

Your child will receive general anaesthesia. The surgery will be in a hospital so an anaesthesiologist can check on your child.

The procedure often takes about 10–15 minutes.

Dr Miller will make a small hole in the eardrum. He will use suction to remove fluid from the middle ear. He completes the procedure by inserting the tube into the hole in the eardrum. There is no visible incision because Dr Miller can reach the eardrum through the ear canal.

After the surgery

After surgery your child will wake up in the recovery area. The total time spent in the hospital is a few hours. Very young children, and children with other medical problems, might need to stay longer.

Water and other substances can sometimes get into the middle ear through the tube. This is usually not a problem. Dr Miller will discuss whether earplugs are necessary for regular bathing or swimming.

Removing the tube

The tube stays in the ear for about 6–18 months, depending on the type of tube used. The tube is usually pushed out as the eardrum heals, so it will fall out on its own.

In most cases, your child will not need surgery to remove the tympanostomy tube. If the tube remains in the eardrum for more than two or three years, it might need to be surgically removed. This is to prevent a perforated eardrum or a build-up of debris around the tube.

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