More than 75 percent of children will have at least one ear infection before they are three years old. These middle-ear infections are known as otis media and though the inner- infections are fairly easy to treat with antibiotics, ear tube surgery (also known as myringotomy or bilateral myringotomy) is often necessary.
Dr. Matthew Dahl of the Ear, Nose and Throat Center regularly performs ear tube surgery in Utah. Ear tube surgery is a routine procedure and since so many parents have questions about otis media and ear tube surgery, we sat down with Dr. Dahl to ask 5 Questions about Ear Tube Surgery.
Question #1: Is there a minimum age for ear tubes?
Dr. Dahl’s answer: No, there is not a minimum age for pressure equalization tube placement. The decision to place ear tubes is not based on age, but more on other indications that can be diagnosed by an ear, nose and throat doctor.
Question #2: What are common ear tube symptoms or indications?
Dr. Dahl’s answer: Some of the common indications for ear tubes are:
- Fluid persisting within the ear for 3 months or more
- Recurrent ear infections (more than 3 episodes in 6 months or more than 4 episodes in 12 months)
- Poor response to antibiotics
- Fluid in the middle ear space or recurrent infections that affect hearing, often resulting in temporary hearing loss and/or delayed speech development
- Complications of ear infections such as mastoiditis or meningitis
- Chronic retraction of the tympanic membrane, which means the ear drum temporarily shrinks
- Abnormal anatomy such as in children with Down’s syndrome, cleft palate or other craniofacial abnormalities
Questions #3: How long do ear tubes remain in the ear?
Dr. Dahl’s answer: There are two basic types of ear tubes: short-term and long-term ear tubes. Short-term tubes are smaller and typically stay in place for six months to a year before falling out on their own. Long-term tubes may fall out on their own, but are most often removed by an otolaryngologist after a year or more.
Question #4: Can my child go swimming after ear tube surgery?
Dr. Dahl’s answer: Some physicians may recommend keeping ears dry by using ear plugs or other water-tight devices during bathing, swimming, and water activities. However, recent research suggests that protecting the ear may not be necessary, except when participating in water activities in unclean water such as oceans, lakes and rivers. Parents should consult with an ENT doctor about ear protection after surgery.
Question #5: What are the ear tube surgery risks?
Dr. Dahl’s answer: The insertion of ear tubes is an extremely common and safe procedure with minimal risks. When complications do occur, they may include:
Perforation — Perforation may occur when a tube comes out or a long-term tube is removed and the hole in the tympanic membrane (ear drum) does not close. The hole can often be patched through a minor surgical procedure called a tympanoplasty or myringoplasty.
Scarring — Any irritation of the ear drum, including repeated insertion of ear tubes, can cause scarring called tympanosclerosis or myringosclerosis. In most cases, this does not cause problems with hearing.
Infection — Ear infections can still occur in the middle ear or around the ear tube. These infections are usually less frequent, result in less hearing loss, and are easier to treat than ear infections without tubes in place.
Ear tubes come out too early or stay in too long — If an ear tube expels from the ear drum too soon (which is unpredictable), fluid may return and repeat surgery may be needed. Ear tubes that remain too long may require removal by the otolaryngologist to help reduce the chance of perforation.”
Contact the Ear, Nose and Throat Center for Ear Tube Questions
Dr. Dahl and our entire staff of Salt Lake City ENT doctors are ready to help diagnose and treat ear infections and perform ear tube surgery when necessary. Call 801-328-2522 with questions.
Dr. Matthew E. Dahl joined the Ear, Nose & Throat Center in 2009. He is a general pediatric and adult otolaryngologist.