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Ear Tubes

Ear Tubes Overview

Ear infections (otitis media) are the most common infections requiring treatment in young children. They have a tendency to become more frequent and less responsive to antibiotic therapy. Some infections may resolve spontaneously after a short period, while others may require medication to aid in resolution. Almost all children experience one or two infections in the first two years of life, but environment and head and neck anatomy make some children more prone to multiple infections. A complication of otitis media may cause long-term damage that may result in hearing loss or neurologic problems and may contribute to speech or developmental delay.

When a child experiences multiple ear infections, ear tubes (also called tympanostomy tubes, ventilation tubes, or PE [pressure equalization] tubes) may be recommended by an otolaryngologist. These tiny tubes are inserted through the ear drum and perform a number of functions:

  • The tube prevents many ear infections by allowing air in the middle ear to exchange freely with the outside air, preventing the formation of a vacuum in the middle ear. This tends to keep infection from coming to the ear from the back of the nose and causing the ear infection.
  • The equalization of the middle ear pressure prevents most of the complications to the eardrum that result from formation of negative pressure in the middle ear.
  • Should an ear with a tube in place become infected, the tube then functions as a drain, without pain, by allowing pus to drain out.
  • The tube then allows the parent to insert medication directly to the site of the infection using antibiotic/steroid ear drops.
  • The tubes can alleviate hearing loss caused by the accumulation of fluid in the middle ear.

Ear tubes are made from various materials and consist of small, cylindrical tubes that are positioned through the ear drum. Some tubes are designed to fall out on their own, and others may require removal by a doctor.

Each year, hundreds of thousands of children undergo procedures to have ear tubes placed in their ears.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/30/2015
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