222 S. Greenleaf St., Suite 106, Gurnee, IL 60031
Office: 847-662-4442 Fax: 847-662-4446
1880 West Winchester Rd., Suite 103, Libertyville, IL 60048
Office: 847-367-5770

Ear Tubes and Ear Infections

Many patients come to us because of problems they are experiencing with their ears. Infections of the ear are quite common, especially for small children. Outer ear infections occur when foreign objects like dirt or sand enter the ear canal, with symptoms characterized as itchiness, pain, and swelling occurring in the outer ear. Any pain experienced by patients is usually amplified when chewing. Because outer ear infections are often the result of bacteria, ear drops are usually prescribed to patients to help them overcome their infection. Sometimes, antibiotics are prescribed, but overall, ear infections are easily treatable if you visit our office.

Middle ear infections can result from either bacteria or a virus. Those with a chronic middle ear infection might experience a thick fluid that the middle ear produces, resulting in an uncomfortable experience. A variety of treatment options are available depending on the root cause of the infection, so it is important to visit a specialist to properly diagnose the infection.

Painful ear infections can be a rite of passage for children.  By age 5, nearly every child has had one ear infection.   Sometimes ear infections and/or fluid in the middle ear may become a chronic problem, which can lead to hearing loss and other issues.  In these cases, insertion of an ear tube by an otolaryngologist (ENT specialist) may be considered.

WHAT ARE EAR TUBES?

Ear tubes are tiny cylinders placed through the tympanic membrane (ear drum) to allow air into the middle ear. There are two basic types of ear tubes.  Tubes designed for short-term and long-term insertion. Short term tubes are smaller and typically stay in place for six months to 2 years before falling out on their own. Long-term tubes are larger and have flanges that secure them in place for a longer period of time.  These may fall out on there own, or may be semi-permanent.

WHO NEEDS EAR TUBES AND WHY?

Ear tubes are often recommended when a person experiences repeated middle ear infection (recurrent acute otitis media) or have persistent middle ear fluid (otitis media with effusion). These conditions most commonly occur in children, but can also be present in teens and adults and can lead to speech and balance problems, hearing loss, or changes in the structure of the ear drum.

Inserting ear tubes may:

  • Reduce the risk of future ear infection;
  • Restore hearing loss caused by middle ear fluid;
  • Improve speech problems and balance problems; and
  • Improve behavior and sleep problems caused by chronic ear infections.

HOW ARE EAR TUBES INSERTED IN THE EAR?

Ear tubes are inserted through a procedure called a myringotomy. A myringotomy refers to an incision (small cut) in the ear drum. This is performed using a surgical microscope and a small scalpel. If an ear tube is not inserted, the hole would heal and close within a few days. To prevent this, an ear tube is placed in the hole to keep it open and allow air to reach the middle ear space (a term we call ventilation).

WHAT HAPPENS AFTER SURGERY?

Hearing loss caused by the presence of middle ear fluid is usually immediately resolved by surgery.  To avoid the possibility of bacteria entering the middle ear through the ear tube, the physicians may recommend keeping ears dry by using ear plugs or other water-tight devices during bathing, swimming, and water activities. However, recent research suggests that protecting the ear may not be necessary. Parents should consult with the treating physician about ear protection after surgery.

POSSIBLE COMPLICATIONS

Myringotomy with insertion of ear tubes is an extremely common and safe procedure with minimal complications.  However, like all procedures there are potential complications.  The most common complications from ear tubes are:

  • •Perforation— This can happen when a tube comes out or a long-term tube is removed and the hole in the tympanic membrane (ear drum) does not close. The hole can be patched through an additional surgical procedure.
  • •Infection— Ear infections can still occur in the middle ear or around the ear tube. However, these infections are usually less frequent, result in less hearing loss, and are easier to treat; often only with ear drops.

Ear tubes may come out too early or stay in too long.  If the tube comes out too early, recurrent infections may return necessitating inserting a new tube.  If they stay too long they may need to be removed with a surgical procedure.