If you or your child can’t find relief from chronic ear infections, you may be a candidate for ear tubes.
Otolaryngologists from University of Iowa Health Care perform ear tube surgery (myringotomy) on people of all ages. This includes:
- Children who have recurring ear infections (at least six per year) despite treatment
- Children who still have fluid in their ear three or more months after an ear infection (otitis media with effusion)
- Children whose ear infections make it hard to hear, resulting in speech delays
- Adults with chronic ear infections, fluid buildup, or other problems with the eustachian tubes (small tubes that connect your middle ears to the back of your nose)
How ear tube surgery works
Ear infections often occur when air and fluid build up in your middle ear. Not only can this cause painful pressure in your ear, but the fluid trapped inside may become infected or interfere with hearing.
For many people, ear tube surgery is the most effective way to prevent these problems.
The procedure usually involves the following steps:
- First, your surgeon cleans out any earwax that may be blocking your ear canal.
- Next, they make a tiny incision in your eardrum and drain (or suction out) any fluid inside.
- Finally, they place a small plastic or metal tube inside the hole made by the incision.
These tubes help fluid drain from (and air flow through) your middle ear. They usually fall out on their own within 10 -18 months.
When you choose UI Health Care for ear tube placement, you can expect outstanding care.
We perform hundreds of ear tube surgeries every year and offer a level of experience that’s hard to find elsewhere in Iowa.
And because we’re home to a nationally ranked children’s hospital, we provide the safest possible care to every child who needs ear tubes.
What to expect
Depending on your reason for ear tube surgery, you may need an ear tube in one ear or both ears.
In most cases, ear tube surgery is an outpatient procedure. This means you (or your child) can go home the same day.
Ear tubes for children
The actual procedure usually lasts about 30 minutes.
Once the procedure is over, we’ll monitor your child for a couple of hours. This helps us make sure their vital signs are normal and their pain is well-controlled.
Ear tubes for adults
Adult ear tube placement in an outpatient setting usually takes about 20 minutes.
After the procedure
You’ll need to keep the following guidelines in mind after ear tube surgery:
- Follow-up care: You’ll have an appointment with your provider about three months after your procedure. During this visit, we’ll make sure your ear tube hasn’t become blocked. We’ll also confirm that your ears look healthy.
- Exposure to water: Although you won’t need to wear earplugs during routine bathing or showering, you should wear them while diving or swimming, especially in unchlorinated water. This helps prevent bacteria from entering your middle ear through the ear tube.
- Ear tube removal: If your ear tube doesn’t fall out on its own after 18 months, we’ll need to manually remove it. This helps prevent damage to your eardrum. If your ear tube falls out too early, you may need a second procedure to replace it.
Some people who previously had ear tubes develop additional ear infections. If they become chronic, you can safely undergo another ear tube surgery.
An alternative to ear tubes for adults
In some cases, ear tubes don’t provide relief for people with chronic ear infections or other eustachian tube problems (also known as eustachian tube dysfunction).
If you’ve had ear tubes more than once—and still have pain, muffled hearing, or other symptoms—we can help. Our otolaryngologists offer eustachian tube balloon dilation, which is a safe, effective alternative to ear tubes.
How eustachian tube balloon dilation works
Eustachian tube balloon dilation is a minimally invasive procedure that takes about 20 minutes. Here’s what you can expect:
- Your surgeon will use a thin, hollow tube (catheter) to insert a tiny balloon inside your eustachian tube.
- They’ll inflate the balloon, which widens your eustachian tube.
- This eustachian tube expansion restores normal air flow and prevents fluid buildup (which helps prevent ear infections).
Many people who have eustachian tube balloon dilation experience long-term relief from their symptoms.