What are Ear Tubes?
These are tiny plastic tubes that are put in the eardrum. This is done during a short operation at hospital under general anesthetic. The ear tubes are inserted after the fluid in the middle ear has been drained away. The ear tubes allow air to circulate in the middle ear and stop more fluid from building up.
Ear tubes are not a cure for glue ear. But they can clear the fluid inside your child’s ears and improve their hearing until they grow out of it.
How long do they work for?
Ear tubes usually stay in until the eardrum has healed and pushed them out. They tend to stay in for approximately a year, give or take a few months. You may not notice when they drop out! Periodic visits and examinations will check on the status of the ear tubes and the hearing.
Eventually when the ear tubes fall out, the glue ear may come back. This happens to one child out of every three or four who has ear tubes put in. If this happens ear tubes may need to be reinserted until your child grows out of the problem.
What about the adenoids?
There is evidence to show that taking out the adenoids at the same time as inserting ear tubes may help prevent the glue ear recurring, and therefore it may be recommended that an adenoidectomy is performed at the same time as putting ear tubes in.
After the operation
Ear tubes are not usually sore at all, but each child is different. You can give your child painkillers if you need to. Ear tubes should improve your child’s hearing straight away. Some children think everything sounds too loud until they get used to having normal hearing again. This usually takes only a few days.
Your child should usually be able to go back to school or daycare the day after the operation.
What about ear infections?
It’s not uncommon for children with ear tubes to have a discharge from their ear, often during or after a cold. This will mostly not be associated with any pain. About 1 in 4 children have fluid coming out of their ear, and a few (less than 1 in 25) have this for a long time. If you get some antibiotic ear drops from your doctor, the problem will quickly settle. Some doctors may give antibiotics by mouth instead of antibiotic ear drops.
Can my child swim with ear tubes in?
Your child can start swimming about a month after the operation, as long as they don’t dive under the water. You do not necessarily need to use earplugs – the hole in the ear tube is too small to let water through. You do need to avoid getting dirty or soapy water into the ear, so in the bath or shower plug your child’s ears with a cotton-wool ball covered in Vaseline.
What else should I know about ear tubes?
Sometimes the ear tubes may get pushed out of the eardrum very early and if this happens they may need to be reinserted.
It is OK to fly in an airplane with ear tubes. The pain from the change in pressure in the airplane ear tubes should not happen when the ear tubes are working.
We need to check your child’s hearing after ear tubes have been put in, to make sure their hearing is better.
Sometimes when a ear tube comes out, a small hole is left behind. This usually heals up with time, and we rarely need to operate to close the hole. The ear tube can leave some scarring in the eardrum. This does not affect the hearing.