Tympanostomy tube surgery (also called ear tube surgery) is one of the most common procedures performed in the United States on children under age 15.
While less common in older people, some adults who suffer from hearing or balance issues benefit from ear tubes as well.
What are the signs you need ear tube surgery?
If you or your child have any of the following issues, visit your healthcare provider to find out if ear tube surgery is an option:
- Chronic ear infections – Middle ear infections are common in children. This is because the eustachian tubes, the tubes that connect the middle ear to the back of the throat, are more narrow than those of adults and can easily become blocked. A cold or other respiratory infection can cause the ear to fill with fluid or pus, which can push on the eardrum. If your child gets frequent ear infections that don’t go away quickly or keep coming back, your doctor might recommend ear tubes.
- Hearing loss – A buildup of fluid behind the eardrum from infection or allergies can cause the eustachian tubes to swell and lead to hearing loss.
- Injury to the ear from barotrauma – A change in altitude from flying in an airplane, scuba diving or driving in the mountains can cause pressure buildup in your ear, resulting in ear fullness, pain and sometimes dizziness. While this usually resolves on its own, in rare cases, a procedure is needed to open the tubes.
- Balance problems. Fluid buildup and swollen or narrow Eustachian tubes can also trigger problems with balance.
What happens during ear tube surgery?
While tympanostomy tubes are placed in children while their asleep under general anesthesia, adult tubes can often be done in the office with local anesthesia.
During the procedure, an ear, nose and throat surgeon will make a tiny incision in each eardrum. Fluid will then be suctioned out of the middle ear, and tubes are inserted in the holes.
This allows air to flow in and out and evens out air pressure. The tubes also allow excess fluid to drain from behind the eardrum, helping to prevent ear infections.
What happens after the surgery?
Usually, the tubes will gradually be pushed out as the eardrum heals, falling out on their own after six to 18 months.
Can I avoid ear tube surgery?
You may find holistic remedies, such as oils and even chiropractic care, promoted online as alternatives to ear tube surgery. However, you should always follow a doctor’s recommendations for medical and surgical treatment to help avoid recurring ear infections and protect your — or your child’s — health and hearing.
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