Ear Tubes - Surgical Procedure

Ear tube surgery is usually performed by an otolaryngologist, also known as an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) physician. Ear tubes are also referred to as pressure-equalizing (PE) tubes or tympanostomy tubes. Ear tubes are made from different materials and come in many different sizes.

Ear tube insertion surgery can take as few as 10–15 minutes to perform; however, because general anesthesia is necessary, the procedure must be performed in a hospital or in an outpatient surgery facility. The entire procedure usually takes about half the day.

In this procedure, the surgeon makes a small incision in the eardrum (called a myringotomy), suctions out any fluid in the middle ear, and inserts a very small tube into the incision to keep the eustachian tube open. The child is monitored closely until he or she recovers from the anesthesia. In some cases, the child experiences nausea and vomits once or twice after the surgery. If your child experiences more persistent vomiting after surgery, medication may be prescribed to settle his or her stomach.

Benefits of ear tube insertion include the following:

  • Relief of pain and pressure behind the eardrum
  • Improved hearing
  • Reduced number of ear infections
  • Faster recovery from ear infections
  • Prevention of eardrum ruptures

Risks of ear tube insertion include the following:

  • Allergic reaction to the anesthesia or to the material of which the ear tube is comprised (may cause breathing difficulty
  • Bleeding
  • Chronic drainage from the eardrum (called otorrhea)
  • Hearing loss due to thickening of the eardrum or permanent perforation of the eardrum
  • Infection
  • Need for further surgery (involving the sinus, tonsils, and/or adenoids)

Parents should discuss the risks and benefits of ear tube insertion with the child's pediatrician and the otolaryngologist prior to the procedure.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 27 Aug 2008

Last Modified: 14 Sep 2015