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Ear Tubes

Ear tubes are known by many names, including tympanostomy tubes, ear ventilating tubes, or most often, PE (pressure-equalizing) tubes. The tiny hollow tubes are placed in your child's eardrums and reduce the number of ear infections by letting air into the middle ear while draining fluid out. Keeping this fluid out of the middle ear can help bring back normal hearing. The tubes do not cause hearing loss or long-term damage to the eardrum.

What Happens During Surgery?

PE tubes are put in during outpatient surgery. Your child does not have to stay overnight in the hospital. Your child will have general anesthesia and will be asleep through the surgery. Using a microscope, the ear surgeon makes a small cut in the eardrum. Any fluid in the middle ear is removed. The tube is put in the eardrum hole and stays in place without any stitches.

Surgery on both eardrums often takes less than 20 minutes. Recovery from anesthesia is rapid and your child will be able to go home in about one hour.

When Will My Child's Hearing Improve?

Many children can hear better as soon as the ear tubes have been put in. The child may be frightened by normal noises that now seem loud. This will go away as soon as your child gets used to hearing normal sound volumes. 

Discharge Instructions (After Outpatient Surgery)

  • Pain medicine: Most children are back to normal a few hours after surgery and don't have any pain. If your child is fussy or runs a fever after surgery, give acetaminophen every four hours according to the directions for your child's age.
  • Diet: Your child may feel sick to his or her stomach or throw up right after surgery. First, give your child cool, clear liquids to drink. As your child feels like eating, slowly return to a normal diet.
  • Ear drainage after surgery: Because an opening in the eardrum has been made, you may see drainage from the middle ear for two to four days after the operation. The drainage may be clear pink or bloody. The doctor may give you some medicine drops for this. If the stinging makes your child too uncomfortable you may stop the drops.
  • Protection from water: After the ear tubes are in place, try to keep water out of the ears. Often, there won't be a problem if water does get in the ears, but water can carry germs into the middle ear through the tube and cause an ear infection. During bathing, shampooing, and swimming, your child's ears should be protected. Vaseline-coated cotton balls, silicone ear putty, or a specially made ear molds can be placed in the outer ear to block the ear canal. Silly Putty should not be used because pieces can be left in the ear canal. Either ear putty or ear molds should be used when swimming. Absolutely no diving!
  • Ear Infections: PE tubes will help stop ear infections most of the time. However, an ear infection can still occur. You should call the office nurse if your child ever has ear pain, fullness in the ears, hearing problems, or drainage or blood from the ears (except just after surgery). Often, the nurse can tell over the phone if the child can be treated at home with medicine by mouth or ear drops, or if the child needs to be seen in the office.

 You can decrease the chance that your child will have an ear infection if you:

  • Feed your child in a sitting up position
  • Don't let your child go to bed with a bottle
  • Avoid having your child around anyone who is smoking

Tube Removal: PE tubes do not need to be surgically removed. PE tubes are slowly pushed out of the eardrums and fall out of the ear. This usually happens six to 12 months after surgery. Most children (85 percent) will not need a second set of PE tubes put in. By the time the tubes have fallen out, most children have outgrown the need for tubes.

Call your ENT doctor immediately if:

  • Your child's vomiting lasts more than 24 hours
  • Your child has any signs of dehydration
  • The pain is not helped by pain medicine

Call your ENT doctor during office hours if:

  • Ear drainage lasts more than three days
  • You have other questions or concerns