Chances are good you’ll have questions when you come home from your doctor with ear tubes recommended for your child. Relax, as it’s a common procedure for a common condition in children.
The spaces behind our eardrums are normally vented through natural drainage tubes called the eustachian tubes, but frequent, minor infections can block these tubes in children. Ear tubes provide relief from the symptoms that accompany blocked eustachian tubes.
People of any age experiencing plugged eustachian tubes could be candidates for ear tube surgery, but children are more prone to ear infections, since their eustachian tubes aren’t developed to full size and they get a lot more viruses that inflame the lining of the eustachian tubes and block them.
Fluid may be trapped behind the eardrum even when there’s no active infection. Ear tubes are more often needed in children with differences in facial structure that affect the eustachian tubes, such as those with cleft palates or trisomy 21 (Down syndrome).
The surgery is typically done under general anesthesia, so your child isn’t aware of the procedure as it takes place. Placing the tubes takes only about 15 minutes. A small incision is made in the eardrum, allowing fluids to be removed from the middle ear, then a small tube is placed in the opening.
Your child is observed for a short time following surgery, and then they can go home. They’ll likely feel sleepy, and the effects of anesthetics may make them moody, but they will be back to themselves within 24 hours. Pain after the procedure is rare and usually handled well with over-the-counter medications.
Your child may experience cracking and popping noises as fluids drain, but this is simply an odd sensation. It doesn’t hurt.
If your child was suffering hearing loss due to the collected fluids, it will typically go away with the procedure. In most cases, there will be a follow-up appointment with Lawrence Otolaryngology Associates to check the tubes, usually between four and six months later.
If their hearing was affected prior to the procedure, a hearing test may be recommended after the fluid is gone to confirm that the inner ear is working well.
Complications are rare, but they can occur. Contact Lawrence Otolaryngology Associates if brown, bloody, or yellow discharge is coming from your child’s ears more than a week after the procedure.
The same is true if your child continues to have pain and/or hearing problems.
The ear tubes are gradually pushed out naturally by the eardrums. The eardrums then repair the hole where the tube was sitting, but occasionally the hole remains and has to be surgically fixed.
Are ear tubes permanent?
No. The tubes typically remain in the eardrum about six months to two years after placement and gradually get pushed out. It’s common to find the tubes on your child’s pillow one morning, or they may never be noticed, given their small size.
Usually we determine the tube has come out at one of the routine monitoring appointments. Occasionally, tubes won’t fall out and require surgical removal.
If you have any other questions or concerns about your child’s ear tube procedure, contact the ear, nose and throat specialists at Lawrence Otolaryngology Associates by phone to book a consultation.