The eardrum (tympanic membrane) separates the ear canal from the middle ear.
Ear tube insertion is recommended for:
fluid in the middle ear (present for more than 12 weeks)
recurrent ear infections despite efforts of prevention (more than three infections in six months)
ear infections that don't improve after two to three rounds of using the appropriate antibiotics
persistent ear pain
hearing loss (over a three-month period)
While you are deep asleep and pain-free (using general anesthesia), a small incision is made in the eardrum, and the accumulated fluid is suctioned out. A small tube is inserted through the incised eardrum in order to dry out the middle ear and prevent the fluid from re-accumulating. The procedure takes less than 30 minutes, and the anesthesia used is temporary and safe. The incision heals without sutures and usually the hole closes spontaneously. The ear tubes fall out after a few months.
Ear tube insertion relieves pain and restores hearing immediately. Patients usually leave the hospital the same day of surgery. Most people who have had ear tube insertions are quite pleased with the results. The frequency and severity of middle-ear infections is significantly reduced. If ear infections persist after the tubes fall out, the operation can be repeated.
Seth Schwartz, MD, MPH, Otolaryngologist, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.