Springdale Mason Pediatrics

Ear Tube Surgery


  • Ear tubes are tiny plastic tubes that are placed across the eardrum
  • They are placed by an ear (ENT) surgeon
  • Also called ventilation tubes, tympanostomy tubes or PE tubes

Call or Return If

  • Your child develops symptoms of an ear infection
  • You have other questions or concerns

About This Topic

Ear Tubes - When are They Needed?

Here are the current reasons for ear tube surgery:

  • Fluid has been present in the middle ear nonstop for over 3 months. Both ears have fluid.
  • Also, the fluid has caused a hearing loss greater than 20 decibels.
  • Hearing should be tested first. Some children have nearly normal hearing and tubes are not needed.
  • Ear infections that occur 3 or more times in 6 months may need tubes.
  • Ear infections that occur 4 or more times in 12 months may need tubes.
  • Ear infections that do not clear up after trying many antibiotics may need tubes.
  • Prevention should be tried before turning to surgery. Examples: Avoid second hand smoke exposure and stop any pacifiers.
  • Talk to your child's doctor about ear tubes and if they could help your child.

Benefits of Ear Tube Surgery

  • Most children notice hearing is quickly improved after surgery.
  • Better hearing helps language development.
  • Better hearing continues as long as the ear tubes are open.
  • The ear infection rate also improves.

Risks of Ear Tube Surgery

  • After the tubes come out, they may leave scars on the eardrum. They may also leave a small hole that doesn't heal. Both of these problems can cause a small hearing loss.
  • There is also a small risk when giving anesthesia to young children.
  • Therefore, doctors recommend ear tubes only for children who really need them.

After Care Advice

  • Ear tube placement is the most common type of surgery performed on children in the US.
  • The surgery is done as an outpatient. It takes about 20 minutes.
  • The tubes stay in place without any stitches (sutures).
  • In general, ear tube surgery is very safe and gives good results.
  • Ear tubes allow fluid to drain out of the middle ear space and air to re-enter. That allows the middle ear to become dry and heal.
  • This returns the hearing to normal.
  • It also lowers the risk of repeated ear infections.
Water Precautions with Ear Tubes:
  • Follow the advice of your ENT surgeon.
  • Most children will not need restrictions on swimming or bathing. Exception: All children should avoid getting dirty or soapy water in their ears. Avoid taking bubble baths.
  • For children with active or recurrent ear discharge, the following precautions apply:
  • Avoid swimming in lakes, ponds, and rivers. Reason: often contaminated water. Ocean water is generally safe.
  • Treated swimming pools are usually safe.
  • Avoid diving and underwater swimming deeper than 5 feet.
  • Surface swimming is safe.
  • Note: ear plugs and swim caps usually are not helpful.
Travel Restrictions with Ear Tubes:
  • There are none.
  • Your child may fly with ear tubes.
  • Your child may also go to the mountains.
What to Expect:
  • In most cases, the tubes come out between 6 and 18 months. They fall out of the eardrum on their own.
  • If the ear tubes come out too soon, frequent ear infections may return. About 20% of children need a second set of ear tubes.
  • If the tubes stay in over 2 years, talk with your child's doctor. They probably are no longer needed. The surgeon may need to take them out.

Author: Barton Schmitt MD, FAAP
Copyright 2000-2021 Schmitt Pediatric Guidelines LLC
Disclaimer: This health information is for educational purposes only. You the reader assume full responsibility for how you choose to use it.
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