What Conditions Require Ear Tubes in Children?

Madeleine A.

Conditions such as otitis media, or middle ear infection, commonly require ear tubes in children. Children who suffer from prolonged periods of fluid in their ears, or people who have some ear injuries or deformities also are sometimes treated with ear tubes. The procedure of placing the ear tubes in children is called a myringotomy with ear tubes, and the tubes are sometimes referred to as tympanostostomy tubes. Ear tubes in children are typically reserved for those whose ear infections are chronic.

Infections of the middle ear often require ear tubes in children.
Infections of the middle ear often require ear tubes in children.

Fluid that remains in a child's inner ear for long periods can cause a hearing deficit and sometimes is treated with ear tubes in children. Although otitis media is a common condition of childhood, teenagers as well as adults can experience it. When it occurs in these age groups, symptoms such as changes in ear anatomy, balance and speech deficits, and hearing loss can occur.

Conditions such as middle ear infection often require ear tubes in children.
Conditions such as middle ear infection often require ear tubes in children.

Sometimes, conditions such as Down Syndrome, Eustachian tube deformities, or eardrum deformities, middle ear injuries and cleft palate may necessitate the placement of ear tubes in children. Myringotomy is typically done in an outpatient setting, and general anesthesia is typically administered when done on very young children. Teens and adults may fare well without any anesthesia.

During the surgical procedure, the surgeon typically removes fluid in the middle ear and then inserts the tubes into the space. After surgery, the patient may feel be nauseated, irritable, and sleepy, but these symptoms are temporary and usually mild. If the patient feels pain, it is generally mild, and when it does occur, acetaminophen or ibuprofen is usually effective.

After ear tubes in children are put into place, slight drainage can occur for a few days. This is normal, and no cause for concern. The drainage is typically clear, but if it begins to turn green, yellow, or bloody, or if it smells bad, the physician should be notified. These are symptoms of an infection and will need to be evaluated and treated with oral or ear drop antibiotics.

Although the insertion of ear tubes in children is an extremely common and simple procedure, complications can arise. These include scarring of the eardrum, perforation of the eardrum, unintentional loss of the ear tubes and infection. In addition, rare complications from general anesthesia can arise as well.

Occasionally, children might need to undergo another procedure, especially if their ear tubes fall out prematurely or other complications arise. When this occurs, the adenoids might also be removed, because chronically inflamed adenoids can cause the Eustachian tubes to malfunction, contributing to an increased risk of middle ear infections. Removal of the adenoids may also improve snoring in children, which might also promote ear infections.

General anesthesia is ususally given when placing ear tubes in very small children.
General anesthesia is ususally given when placing ear tubes in very small children.

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