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Ear Tubes

Ear Tubes

Small, cylindrical-shaped hollow tubes, made of plastic, metal or teflon, which are inserted into the eardrum/tympanic membrane in order to drain out fluid and ventilate the middle ear are known as ear tubes. The upcoming passages provide in-depth information about these tiny cylinders.
Rita Putatunda
Last Updated: Mar 12, 2018
Ear tubes, also known as myringotomy, pressure equalization, or tympanostomy tubes, are categorized into two types: short-term and long-term tubes. Short-term ones are smaller in size and tend to stay in place for a period of six months, after which they fall out by themselves. Long-term ones are larger in size, containing flanges, which help in securing them for a longer period of time. They usually have to be removed by the doctor, although they can also fall out by themselves.
Ear infections are usually painful and are a common occurrence in childhood. These infections largely clear up on their own, if they are viral, or they can be treated effectively with antibiotics, if tainted by bacteria. However, these can sometimes become a persistent problem along with the build up of fluid in the middle ear, which in turn can lead to other problems like loss of hearing, speech problems, behavioral problems, and so on. In such a case, an ear, nose, and throat doctor, also referred to as an otolaryngologist, may be able to alleviate the problem by inserting a tube in the ear. It can be coated in order to lessen the chances of infection. Since tubes are inserted in the eardrum, they are not clearly visible from outside.
Reasons for Insertion
One of the common reasons to perform this surgical procedure is the build up of fluid behind the eardrum, particularly in children. It persists for four months or more and is accompanied by loss of hearing or the chances of developmental problems. Sometimes, if required, the procedure can be carried out much before the four months.
Given below are some of the conditions for the usage of this device:
  • When one is suffering from an ear infection.
  • For people affected by complications due to acute ear infection, like paralysis of the facial nerves, meningitis, brain infection, or mastoiditis.
  • For people who undergo hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
  • For people affected by barotraumas due to deep sea diving or flying.
Specific Functions
  • They enable air to get into the middle ear.
  • The accumulated fluid drains out into the ear canal, from the middle ear, through this tube. Thus, helping in clearing the fluid from the middle ear, thereby restoring the ability to hear.
  • They also help in preventing further fluid buildup in the middle ear as long as they are in place.
  • They help in decreasing the pressure formed in the ears by the fluid buildup, thus reducing the pain.
Steps Involved in the Surgical Procedure
  • The ear tube insertion procedure, also known as a myringotomy, is usually performed in an outpatient surgery clinic.
  • Young children are usually administered a light general anesthetic, while older children or adults may forgo this if they are able to tolerate it without the aid of an anesthetic agent.
  • Myringotomy involves an incision made in the eardrum with the help of a tiny scalpel or laser, under a surgical microscope. Then the accumulated fluid is suctioned out.
  • Next, the tube is inserted into this hole in order to ventilate the middle ear. In case the tube is not used, the surgical incision heals and closes in a few days.
  • Once the tube is in place, antibiotic eardrops are usually administered which may be continued for the following few days.
  • The whole procedure does not take more than 15 minutes, and the patient comes out of the anesthetic effect quickly.
Risks Involved
  • Pus discharge from the ear, known as otorrhea, is a common problem and sometimes becomes persistent in a few children.
  • The eardrum becomes thickened over time which leads to hearing problems.
  • The blockage of the tube resulting in the recurrence of ear fluid buildup and infections.
  • The possibility of the tube slipping out and getting into the middle ear, is rare.
  • The occurrence of cholesteatoma, in which a tissue is formed in the middle ear behind the eardrum, is also a rare possibility.
In order to prevent bacteria from getting into the middle ear through the tube, it is recommended to use earplugs to keep the ears dry while bathing, swimming, or doing any other activity involving water. The physician should be consulted about the ear protection measures to be undertaken after the surgery.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.