What Parents Need to Know About Ear Tubes

Industry: Healthcare

Intermountain Health ENT physician explains when and why a child may need ear tubes.

Salt Lake City, UT (PRUnderground) March 27th, 2023

Nearly 500,000 children of all ages receive ear tubes every year to help fight ear infections. In fact, Intermountain Health doctors say ear tubes are one of the most common surgeries young children undergo. However, just because ear tubes are common that doesn’t mean all children need them.

Ear tubes (also called tympanostomy tubes) are small plastic or metal tubes inserted in a child’s eardrums. They create an airway that ventilates the middle ear and prevents fluid from accumulating behind the eardrum.

Ear tubes are often recommended or considered if the child has:

  • Significant hearing loss from fluid behind the eardrums for more than three months.
  • Repetitive acute ear infections with complications or bacterial resistance to antibiotics
  • Has a collapsing ear drum, which is a condition known as atelectasis. A collapsed eardrum can lead to decreased hearing as well as risk of erosion to the bones in the middle ear.

“Ear tubes can prevent negative pressure and thus risk of infection in the middle ear, and often result in restored hearing after the removal of chronic retained fluid behind the eardrum”, said Nathan Joos, MD, otolaryngologist at Intermountain Health. “It can improve your child’s quality of life with a simple outpatient procedure.”

What can you and your child expect from ear tube surgery?

Having a child undergo surgery often makes parents nervous. However, parents should take comfort in knowing ear tubes are placed by a surgeon who specializes in ear, nose and throat (ENT) disorders.

Since the child will be under general anesthesia during surgery, they won’t be in pain or aware of what’s happening. Anesthesia is administered by mask inhalation and monitored by an anesthesiologist throughout the short surgery.

During the 5-10-minute outpatient surgery, the surgeon makes a small incision in each eardrum.  Any fluid in the middle ear is then suctioned out and the surgeon inserts the tube into the hole in the eardrum.

After surgery the child is monitored for possible complications from the surgery or anesthesia for approximately 20-30 minutes before discharge.  They typically act fussy for the first hour or two given the whole experience, but should experience no pain postoperatively.

Most children are back to normal by the same afternoon and can go back to school or daycare the very next day.

Parents can usually expect to use medicated eardrops in their child’s ears for 3-7 days, and then follow up with their ENT physician to check on the outcome 4-6 weeks after surgery.

While the timeline may vary from patient to patient, ear tubes typically stay in place for about 15 months prior to falling out naturally.  Patients continue to follow up every 6 months with their ENT physician to monitor progress as well as for any recurrent issues after the tubes have fallen out.

Nathan D. Joos, MD, is a specialist in Otolaryngology with Intermountain Medical Group, currently sees patients at Intermountain Health’s Memorial Clinic in Salt Lake City, and will be coming soon to Intermountain Park City Specialty Clinic.

About Intermountain Health

Headquartered in Utah with locations in seven states and additional operations across the western U.S., Intermountain Health is a nonprofit system of 33 hospitals, 385 clinics, medical groups with some 3,900 employed physicians and advanced care providers, a health plans division called Select Health with more than one million members, and other health services. Helping people live the healthiest lives possible, Intermountain is committed to improving community health and is widely recognized as a leader in transforming healthcare by using evidence-based best practices to consistently deliver high-quality outcomes at sustainable costs. For more information or updates, see https://intermountainhealthcare.org/news.

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