What Is the Connection between Ear Tubes and Ear Infection?

Madeleine A.

The connection between ear tubes and ear infection exists because children who experience frequent middle ear infections sometimes need ear tubes to decrease the risk. Myringotomy with ear tube insertion is a minor surgical procedure where tubes called tympanostomy tubes are placed in the middle ear to keep the air circulating and equalize ear pressure. This procedure drastically cuts down on otitis media, or middle ear infections, and can reduce the risk of hearing loss caused by eardrum scarring.

Ear tubes are placed in the middle ear to help reduce infections.
Ear tubes are placed in the middle ear to help reduce infections.

Many parents are familiar with the relationship between ear tubes and ear infection. Although common in childhood, the need for ear tubes becomes less common as a child gets older. In addition, since the connection between ear tubes and ear infection is a widely recognized, parents usually feel comfortable when the physician broaches the subject. The procedure is minor, and is typically performed in an outpatient setting, although general anesthesia is used for children.

For middle ear infections, it's best to visit a doctor who will likely prescribe antibiotics.
For middle ear infections, it's best to visit a doctor who will likely prescribe antibiotics.

Generally, the recovery period for myringotomy is uneventful. There is a slight risk of complications from anesthesia, but these are rare. When the child wakes up from the anesthesia, he might still be sleepy and nauseated, but these effects are usually temporary and mild. In addition, ibuprofen or acetaminophen can be given for pain, should it be present post-operatively. Typically, however, pain is unusual or very mild after the procedure, in most patients.

Patients may have some mild discharge for about three days following the procedure. Since this is normal, parents or caregivers should not worry. Unless the drainage is green, yellow, or bloody, or has a foul odor, no treatment is needed. If, however, the ear begins to drain foul-smelling, colored discharge, the physician should be called as soon as possible. These symptoms indicate a bacterial infection and need to be treated with antibiotics to avert complications such as loss of hearing or scarring.

On occasion, a second surgical procedure may be necessary to replace the ear tubes that were inserted at the initial surgery. Sometimes, ear tubes can fall out or be pushed out of the ear, necessitating a second set of tubes. It is important to note, that by the time a child reaches his teens, the incidence of ear infections drops dramatically, although they still can occur. In fact, adults can get middle ear infections and in certain cases, even require the insertion of ear tubes themselves.

Some adults may develop middle ear infections and require the insertion of ear tubes.
Some adults may develop middle ear infections and require the insertion of ear tubes.

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