Children with frequent and persistent ear infections are at risk of hearing loss, delayed speech development and behavioral problems. Installation of ear tubes by myringotomy can prevent the ear infections that cumulatively do long-term damage.
An estimated 500,000 ear tube procedures are done each year, making it the most common childhood surgery performed under anesthesia. Once the child is unconscious, an incision is made in the eardrum, using a scalpel or laser. Tiny metal or plastic tubes – about the size of a grain of rice – are placed in the eardrum to provide ventilation. The procedure takes less than 20 minutes. Some tubes are designed to stay in the ear six to 12 months before falling out on their own. Long-term tubes are longer and designed to remain in place until removed by an ENT physician.
Ear tube placement is expected to lead to fewer ear infections, better hearing, better speech and improved sleeping patterns.
There are some risks associated with myringotomy. The risks, while rare, include:
- Continuing drainage of fluid
- Tearing of the eardrum