Ear tube surgery, also known as tympanostomy surgery, is one of the most commonly performed childhood surgeries for children with chronic ear infections. Ear tubes are made out of metal or plastic and are inserted into the eardrum to improve airflow and reduce the incidences of illness. Not all cases require tympanostomy surgery, however. Only severe cases of chronic ear infection require tympanostomy.
What is tympanostomy surgery?
Ear tube surgery requires the surgical insertion of a small cylinder into the middle ear. The tube prevents fluid build-up, negative pressure, and ear infections. An ear, nose, and throat (ENT) surgeon may recommend ear tubes for children as young as one year old. Ear tubes can grow out from the eardrum from 6-18 months after insertions. Some children may need to have the tubes reinserted.
Who needs ear tube surgery?
Children with chronic middle ear infections suffer from issues with the eustachian tube, which connects an open space behind the nose called the nasopharynx to the middle ear space. The tube allows for ventilation and normal fluid drainage. Children have a developing eustachian tube function that is prone to ventilation and drainage problems. A tympanostomy is recommended for children with the following:
- Chronic middle ear infections that have lasted for more than three months and do not improve with antibiotics.
- Hearing loss caused by a fluid build-up in the middle ear called otitis media with effusion.
- A collapsed eardrum, or atelectasis, due to chronic negative pressure.
Who doesn’t need a tympanostomy?
Ear tube surgery is reserved for cases that don’t respond to conventional antibiotics or other treatment methods. Ear infections can be a regular occurrence during childhood. Medicines and other treatments should be the first line of defense for the occasional ear infection. A doctor can recommend the surgery if the benefits outweigh the risks.
The tympanostomy procedure
The ear tube insertion process is relatively quick and painless. In just 15 minutes, the doctor can insert the tubes. The child will be under general anesthesia. A surgeon will make a small incision in the child’s eardrum to drain the fluid and relieve the pressure. A tube is placed in the opening of the eardrum to improve airflow and reduce fluid accumulation.
Outlook after surgery
Children can go home within a couple of hours after surgery. Tubes can fall out within 6 months to a year. Ear tube surgery is a highly effective method of treating chronic ear infections in children. Patients may need tubes reinserted until the eustachian tube fully forms, but until then, the surgery can be a great relief for children and parents. To learn more about tympanostomy surgery, speak with an ENT.