What is ear tube surgery?

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Tubes for Ear Infections

How can you care for your child after ear tube surgery?


  • Your child may want to spend the rest of the day in bed. When your child is ready, your child can begin playing again.
  • Your child will probably be able to go back to school or day care on the day after surgery.
  • Ask your doctor if your child needs to take extra care to keep water from getting in the ears when bathing or swimming. Your child may need to wear earplugs. Check with your doctor to find out what is recommended for your child.


  • Your doctor will tell you if and when your child can restart any medicines. The doctor will also give you instructions about your child taking any new medicines.
  • Ask your doctor if you can give your child acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) for pain. Do not use ibuprofen if your child is less than 6 months old unless the doctor gave you instructions to use it. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • If the doctor prescribed antibiotics for your child, give them as directed. Do not stop giving them just because your child feels better. Your child needs to take the full course of antibiotics.

How well does ear tube surgery in children work?

Ear tube surgery works well to release blocked fluid and to prevent buildup of pressure and fluid in the middle ear. This can help a child hear better.

Tubes may prevent some ear infections. And if a child who has ear tubes gets an ear infection, they will usually have less pain.

How do you prepare for your child's ear tube surgery?

Surgery can be stressful for both your child and you. This information will help you understand what you can expect. And it will help you safely prepare for your child's surgery.

Preparing for surgery

  • Talk to your child about the surgery. Tell your child that the surgery will help the ear problem. Hospitals know how to take care of children. The staff will do all they can to make it easier for your child.
  • Ask if a special tour of the surgery area and hospital is available. This may make your child feel less nervous about what happens.
  • Plan for your child's recovery time. Your child may need more of your time right after the surgery, both for care and for comfort.
  • Understand exactly what surgery is planned, along with the risks, benefits, and other options.
  • Tell the doctor ALL the medicines, vitamins, supplements, and herbal remedies your child takes. Some may increase the risk of problems during the surgery. Your doctor will tell you if your child should stop taking any of them before the surgery and how soon to do it..

The day before surgery

  • A nurse may call you (or you may need to call the hospital). This is to confirm the time and date of your child's surgery and answer any questions.
  • Remember to follow your doctor's instructions about your child taking or stopping medicines before surgery. This includes over-the-counter medicines.

What are the risks of ear tube surgery in children?

Possible problems include:

  • Drainage from the ear (otorrhea). It can become an ongoing problem in some children.
  • Damage to the eardrum over time. These changes in the eardrum may affect hearing in a small number of children.
  • The tube may become blocked. This can allow ear fluid and infections to return.
  • The tube may slip out of place, possibly falling into the middle ear. This is rare.
  • Tissue may form behind the eardrum (cholesteatoma). This is also rare.

What is ear tube surgery in children?

Ear tubes are used to treat frequent ear infections, usually in young children. A tube can be placed in one or both ears. It is one of the most common childhood operations.

Ear tubes are made of hollow plastic and are shaped like a very small spool of thread. The doctor makes a small hole in the eardrum, and then puts an ear tube through the hole. Children who have ear infections usually have fluid buildup behind the eardrum. This causes pain and can also cause hearing loss. The ear tubes allow fluid to drain from the inside of the ear. This reduces pressure, relieves pain, and restores hearing. Allowing the fluid to drain also prevents the growth of bacteria that cause ear infections.

Doctors consider putting in ear tubes if a child has a lot of ear infections or when a child has fluid buildup in the ears for 3 to 4 months and has some hearing loss.

After your child's ear tube surgery: When to call

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has pain that does not get better after taking pain medicine.
  • Your child has signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Pus draining from the ear.
    • A fever.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your child has new or worse drainage from the ear.
  • Your child does not get better as expected.

What can you expect as your child recovers from ear tube surgery?

Most children go home within 1 to 2 hours after the surgery. They usually have little pain after the operation. Your child will probably be able to go back to school or day care the next day.

Your child won't have any visible scars from the surgery.

The tubes usually stay in for 6 to 12 months and fall out on their own as the child grows.

After your child's ear tube surgery: Overview

Most children have little pain after ear tube placement and usually recover quickly.

Your child will feel tired for a day. But your child should be able to go back to school or day care the day after surgery. Your child may want your attention more for the first few days after surgery.

Your child will need to see the doctor regularly to make sure the tubes are working. The doctor also will check your child's hearing.

The tubes usually stay in for 6 to 12 months and fall out on their own as the child grows.

How is your child's ear tube surgery done?

Ear tube placement is done in a hospital or clinic.

Your child will be asleep during the surgery. The doctor will make a small cut in the eardrum. The doctor will use a small suction tool to gently remove any fluid that drains into the ear canal. Then the ear tube is placed through the hole made in the eardrum.

Why is ear tube surgery in children done?

Placing tubes in the ears drains the fluid and ventilates the middle ear. Tubes may keep ear infections from recurring while the tubes are in place. They keep fluid from building up behind the eardrum. And they decrease the feeling of pressure in the ears, which reduces pain. Doctors consider surgery to insert tubes:

  • If a child has fluid buildup in the ears for 3 to 4 months, especially if they have some hearing loss.
  • If a child has repeat ear infections.

What happens on the day of your child's ear tube surgery?

  • Follow the instructions exactly about when your child should stop eating and drinking. If you don't, the surgery may be canceled. If the doctor told you to have your child take any medicines on the day of surgery, have your child take them with only a sip of water.
  • Have your child take a bath or shower before you come in. Do not apply lotion or deodorant.
  • Your child may brush their teeth. But tell your child not to swallow any toothpaste or water.
  • Do not let your child wear contact lenses. Bring your child's glasses or contact lens case.
  • Be sure your child has something that's a reminder of home. A special stuffed animal, toy, or blanket may be comforting. For an older child, it might be a book or music.

At the hospital or surgery center

  • A parent or legal guardian must accompany your child.
  • Your child will be kept comfortable and safe by the anesthesia provider. Your child will be asleep during the surgery.
  • The surgery will take about 15 minutes.
  • After surgery, your child will be taken to the recovery room. As your child wakes up, the recovery room staff will monitor your child's condition. The doctor will talk to you about the surgery.
  • You will probably be able to take your child home 1 to 2 hours after the surgery.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.