Ear tubes look like tiny spools. They are very small hollow cylinders that are placed into the eardrum, and are recommended when a patient has repeated ear infections or hearing loss caused by persistent middle ear fluid. Recurring ear infections or fluid in the ear can lead to hearing loss, speech and balance issues, and chronic ear damage. These problems most commonly affect children, but adults can also be affected.
Ear tubes allow air to enter the middle ear and prevent fluid from building up behind the eardrum. Ear tube surgery (myringotomy) is done through a microscope. The surgeon makes a small incision in the eardrum with a tiny scalpel, and any fluid behind the eardrum is suctioned. The tube is then placed into the eardrum.
General anesthesia is often required in young children, but older children and adults can have ear tubes placed under local anesthesia. After surgery, hearing loss caused by fluid will immediately resolve. Speech and balance problems may take longer to improve. Ear drops may be prescribed after surgery. The otolaryngologist will order a hearing test to make sure hearing has improved. Ear tubes should be checked by the doctor every few months to make sure they do not cause problems and eventually fall out.