Since 1952, tympanostomy tubes (PE tubes) have been used as a form of treatment for recurrent infections in the ear and abnormal pressure and fluid behind the eardrum due to abnormal ventilation in the ear. Our physicians have developed a variety of tubes used throughout the world for different purposes. Over two million of these operations are preformed yearly in the United States.
Tympanostomy tubes not only reduce the number of recurrent infections in the ear, but also immediately eliminate the hearing loss that results from a build-up of fluid or pressure behind the eardrum. It is now known that this hearing loss, if not treated, may result in psychological, social, and educational problems, especially in young children, and it is also known that tympanostomy and tubes are the only reliable method of eliminating this hearing loss. The tubes usually stay in place 4 to 12 months, at which time they are “pushed out” of the eardrum. If, during these 4 to 12 months, the ear and its ventilatory system have not returned to normal, as occurs in about 1 of 3 children, the tubes may need to be replaced.
While the tubes are in the eardrum, it is best to avoid any water going in the ear. A piece of cotton and Vaseline Ointment or a pair of ear plugs (special malleable earplugs are available in our clinic), can be used to protect the ear from water. Infection may develop if dirty water gets into the ear. Should infection (draining ear) develop, antibiotic eardrops will almost always cure the problem.
Any time an anesthetic is used for surgery, its risks are of concern, Anesthesia risks are very rare. Similarly, surgical complications during insertion of tympanostomy tubes (bleeding and increased hearing loss) maybe of concern, but are extremely rare.
In approximately 10% of children having tympanostomy tubes inserted, postoperative infection is trapped behind the eardrum and cannot come out; this occurs regardless of antiseptic measures used by the doctor. The infection can almost always be cured by using antibiotic ear drops. Scarring on the eardrum is generally not a problem ager insertion of tympanostomy tubes. Rarely, a tiny hole may be left in the eardrum where the tube was inserted; this almost always heals by itself. If necessary, this can be surgically patched.
This procedure is commonly performed under local anesthesia in adults. Children are put to sleep but overnight hospitalization is seldom necessary unless other surgical procedures are combined with the insertion of tympanostomy tubes.
In summary, insertion of tympanostomy tubes as treatment for recurrent infections in the ear or changed in fluid and pressure behind the eardrum is safe and reliable therapy when employed by capable surgeons and competent anesthetists and anesthesiologists. The vast majority of ear-doctors feel the benefits of reducing infections in the ear, improving hearing, and avoiding continuation of “fluid ear” which may evolve into a more serious disease, to outweigh the unusual but potential risks of surgery, anesthesia, and infection.