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What can I Expect During Ear Tube Surgery?

By Lindsey Rivas
Updated May 17, 2024
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Ear tube surgery is a common procedure performed when a person has recurrent ear infections or has hearing loss from excess fluid in the middle ear. The procedure, also called a myringotomy, is typically an outpatient surgery that takes approximately 15 minutes. You can expect to be put under anesthesia, then the doctor will make a small incision in your eardrum and suction out the fluid. The tube is then inserted into the hole in your eardrum, and in some cases, the doctor will also remove adenoid tissue. After the surgery, it takes about an hour to recover from the anesthesia, and the doctor will typically give you postoperative instructions and release you to go home.

A doctor might recommend that you have ear tube surgery if you frequently get ear infections. The tubes help prevent ear infections by ventilating the inner ear, which allows fluid to drain and keeps it from building up in the ear canal. The tiny cylindrical tubes that are inserted into your eardrum during the ear tube surgery can be made out of many different materials, and some have a special coating to aid with preventing infections. They can be made for short-term or long-term use. The short-term ones typically fall out after six months to a year, whereas the long-term ones have flanges to keep them in place longer and usually need to be removed by a doctor.

The first step you can expect during ear tube surgery is to be given anesthesia. While you are unconscious, the doctor and nurses will constantly monitor your oxygen saturation and pulse. Next, the doctor will use an operating microscope to guide him in making a small incision in your eardrum. The incision is made using either a scalpel or laser by going through the outer ear canal. After the excess fluid is suctioned out of your ear, the doctor will typically insert the tube into the hole in your eardrum, put antibiotic eardrops in your ear, and plug it with cotton.

In some situations, the doctor might also remove adenoid tissue, which is located in your upper airway behind your nose. This might be done if you need ear tube surgery for a second or third time. The procedure can help prevent ear infections and the need for tubes in the future.

After the doctor has finished the ear tube surgery, you can expect to be in a recovery room for about an hour as the anesthesia wears off. There is usually no pain from the surgery, but you might be groggy or nauseous from the anesthesia. You will usually leave the same day with postoperative instructions.

Following the ear tube surgery, you might have yellowish or bloody drainage from your ear for the next few days, and the doctor might prescribe antibiotic eardrops. Most doctors will recommend that you avoid getting water in your ears, because water can enter your inner ear via the tube and cause an infection. Using ear plugs in the shower or while swimming can keep the inside of your ear dry.

An appointment will usually be scheduled for about two weeks after the surgery to check the function and position of the tube. The ear tube may need to stay in place for more than a year. If it does not fall out on its own, then it might need to be surgically removed. Once the tube is out, the hole in your eardrum will heal on its own within a few weeks.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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