If you’re a parent, it probably comes as no surprise that middle ear infections are common in children, particularly those between the ages of six months and two years. Known as otitis media, these infections are caused by a number of factors, both physical and environmental.
Most ear infections clear up on their own, or are treated with antibiotics. But in some children, they can become a chronic problem that causes other issues, such as delays in speech development and learning. For these children, ear tubes may be recommended.
What Are Ear Tubes?
Ear tubes are tiny cylinders, made from plastic or other materials, which are surgically inserted into the eardrum. They usually stay in place from six to eighteen months. Occasionally, they need to be surgically removed. They go by a variety of names including tympanostomy tubes, ventilation tubes and PE (pressure equalization) tubes.
How Is Ear Tube Surgery Performed?
The surgery, known as a myringotomy and tympanotomy tube placement, is an outpatient procedure performed under general anesthesia. An incision is made in the eardrum, any fluid in the middle ear is suctions out, and the tube is inserted. The procedure is quick and painless, and usually takes no longer than 15 minutes.
Myringotomy and tympanostomy tube placement is a common and safe procedure, and complications are rare. Occasionally, patients will experience a perforation of the eardrum, scarring or infection.
Benefits of Ear Tubes
Ear tubes provide ventilation to the middle ear and allow fluids to drain, reducing the chances of an ear infection from occurring. They can restore hearing loss caused by excess middle ear fluid, alleviate speech and balance problems, and improve behavior and sleep problems caused by ear infections.
How Effective Are Ear Tubes?
Ear tubes are highly effective in treating and preventing middle ear infections, though some children (approximately 25 percent) who receive them before the age of two may need a second set of tubes placed after the first set come out.