Ear tube surgery is the most common elective surgery for children in the US. In fact, over half a million ear tube surgeries are performed each year. You likely even know someone who has had the procedure done. Since it is very quick and a routine outpatient procedure, they are often performed at ambulatory surgery centers. The Surgery Center of Fort Collins works with several experienced otolaryngologists in the northern Colorado area that perform ear tube surgeries for both adult and pediatric patients. Ear tube surgeries are most common in children, so here are five things you should know about the procedure in our facility before taking your child for their surgery.
Does my child need ear tubes?
How do you know if your child needs ear tubes? Many babies and toddlers get ear infections, but some children are especially prone to chronic infections. Some experts recommend ear tubes if a child has had three infections within six months, or four infections within 12 months. They are also recommended when the child has fluid in their ears for more than three months.
Ear tube surgery can help prevent future infections as well as help with hearing loss, speech and balance problems, sleep problems, and fluid buildup. If your child is experiencing any of these symptoms, it is likely that your pediatrician may suggest getting ear tubes.
Why are ear tubes most common in children?
While an ear tube surgery is most common in young children (usually ages 1-3), teens and adults sometimes benefit from them as well. The procedure is most seen in children because their eustachian tubes are narrower and more horizontal than in adults; this means it is more difficult for fluids to drain and for the middle ear to get proper airflow.
If adults and older children do need the procedure, it is usually for similar reasons as children. They may have fluid in the ear that causes speech, balance, and hearing problems. They could also be prone to frequent ear infections, have retracted eardrums, or auditory tube dysfunction. In these cases, ear tubes can help relieve the symptoms.
What does the ear tube procedure look like?
If your child is scheduled for a surgery at the Surgery Center of Fort Collins, the preparation can begin days beforehand. We invite children to tour the facility before their surgery day to become familiar with the staff, doctors, and setting. You can learn more about what pediatric surgeries look like at the Surgery Center in our blog post here.
The actual procedure for children does involve general anesthesia, as this ensures that they will stay still. The surgeon will make a small hole in the eardrum and drain any fluid inside. Then, a small tube will be inserted, also called tympanostomy tubes, myringotomy tubes, pressure equalization tubes, or ventilation tubes. The tubes can be made of plastic, metal, or Teflon. They all do the same thing, which is to help drain fluid and even out the pressure inside and outside of the ear. This process usually only takes about 15 minutes. As soon as the effects of anesthesia begin to wear off, you will be able to take your child home to finish recovery.
An ear tube surgery looks a little different with adults, although it is the same process. Adults are generally more capable of holding still, and so do not always need to go under anesthesia for the insertion of their ear tubes. It is best to speak with your doctor about what is necessary for you.
What are the risks of an ear tube surgery?
The risks of an ear tube surgery are very small but exist, nonetheless. There is always a risk of infection, bleeding, and issues with anesthesia. Very rarely, the hole in the eardrum does not heal on its own after the tube is removed and needs to be repaired with another surgery.
What does recovery from ear tube surgery look like?
Your doctor may prescribe pain medication or ear drops to use after surgery, but the recovery is usually fairly simple for children. They can eat a regular diet and return to their normal activities the day after surgery. Children cannot reach the tubes with their fingers. Some fluid may be draining out of the ear in the days following the procedure. You can gently wipe it away or catch the drainage with a cotton ball.
Ear tubes fall out on their own, usually after about six to 18 months. Your surgeon will check on the tubes every few months to see if they are still there and to ensure the eardrum is healing properly. If the ear tubes are still in place after two to three years, they may have to be removed surgically.
If you have questions about other pediatric surgeries, other surgeries offered at the Surgery Center of Fort Collins, or anything else, please do not hesitate to call us at 970-494-4800. We are here to help and make your surgery experience the best that it can be.