What you can expect

Before the procedure

A surgeon specializing in ear, nose and throat disorders performs the surgery for placing ear tubes.

Anesthesia

The surgeon usually performs the procedure during general anesthesia, so your child isn't aware of anything during the procedure. The anesthetic medication may be inhaled through a mask, injected into a vein or both, and is administered by a doctor who practices anesthesia (anesthesiologist).

The surgical team places several monitors on your child's body to help make sure that his or her heart rate, blood pressure and blood oxygen remain at safe levels throughout the procedure. These monitors include a blood pressure cuff on the child's arm and heart-monitor leads attached to your child's chest.

During the procedure

The procedure usually takes about 15 minutes. The surgeon:

  • Makes a tiny incision in the eardrum (myringotomy) with a small scalpel or laser
  • Suctions out fluids from the middle ear
  • Inserts the tube in the hole in the eardrum

After the procedure

After surgery, your child is moved to a recovery room where the health care team watches for complications from the surgery and anesthesia. If there aren't any complications, your child will be able to go home within a few hours.

Your child will likely be sleepy and irritable for the rest of the day and possibly nauseated from the anesthetic. In most cases, children resume regular activities within 24 hours of the surgery.

Hearing loss caused by fluid in the middle ear is immediately resolved by surgery.

Follow-up care

Your child's doctor will advise you about follow-up care after ear tube placement.

Standard follow-up care

If your child has no complications:

  • An initial follow-up appointment will be scheduled within the first two to four weeks after the procedure. At that time, your child's ear, nose and throat specialist will check for appropriate placement and function of the tubes. Other follow-up appointments with the otolaryngologist or your child's primary care physician will be scheduled at four- to six-month intervals.
  • Your child's ear, nose and throat specialist may prescribe eardrops to help minimize fluid discharge from the ear. Use the full course as directed by your doctor even if no drainage problems appear.
  • If the child had hearing loss before the procedure, the doctor will also order a hearing test (audiogram) to assess hearing outcomes afterward.
  • Your child's doctor may suggest that your child wear earplugs during swimming or bathing.

When to contact your doctor

Reasons to see your child's ear, nose and throat specialist outside of regularly scheduled follow-up appointments include:

  • Yellow, brown or bloody discharge from the ear (otorrhea) that continues for more than a week.
  • Persistent pain, hearing problems or balance problems.
April 19, 2016
References
  1. Ear tubes. American Academy of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery. http://www.entnet.org/content/ear-tubes. Accessed Jan. 11, 2016.
  2. Ear infections in children. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/hearing/pages/earinfections.aspx. Accessed Jan. 9, 2016.
  3. Longo DL, et al., eds. Sore throat, earache, and upper respiratory symptoms. In: Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. 19th ed. New York, N.Y.: McGraw-Hill Education; 2015. http://accessmedicine.com. Accessed Jan. 20, 2016.
  4. Questions to ask before your child's surgery. American Society of Anesthesiologists. http://www.asahq.org/lifeline/anesthesia%20topics/questions%20to%20ask%20before%20your%20childs%20surgery. Accessed Jan. 20, 2016.
  5. Esherick JS, et al. Disease management. In: Current Practice Guidelines in Primary Care 2015. New York, N.Y.: McGraw-Hill Education; 2015. http://accessmedicine.com. Accessed Jan. 20, 2016.
  6. Otitis media (secretory). Merck Manual Professional Version. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/ear,-nose,-and-throat-disorders/middle-ear-and-tympanic-membrane-disorders/otitis-media-(secretory). Accessed Jan. 20, 2016.