Ear tubes surgery

Alternative names
Myringotomy; Tympanostomy; Ear tube insertion

Ear tube insertion is a surgical procedure to drain fluid and place tubes in the eardrums.


While the patient is under general anesthesia, a small incision is made in the eardrum and the accumulated fluid is suctioned out. A small tube may be inserted through the eardrum incision to allow fluid to continuously flow out and air to enter and dry out the middle ear.

Because the incision heals without sutures, the hole closes and the ear tubes fall out naturally after a few months.


Ear tube insertion may be recommended for the foillowing:

  • Long-term (chronic) or recurrent (more than 3 in one year) ear infections  
  • Hearing loss in children  
  • Patients undergoing hyperbaric oxygen therapy  
  • Patients with a complication resulting from a severe ear infection, such as mastoiditis, brain infection, meningitis, or facial nerve paralysis

Symptoms indicating the need for tubes may include the following:

  • Persistent ear pain  
  • Ear drainage  
  • Hearing loss (over a 3-month period)  
  • Recurrent trauma (barotrauma) from flying or deep sea diving


Risks for any anesthesia are:

  • Reactions to medications  
  • Problems breathing

Risks for any surgery are:

  • Bleeding  
  • Infection

Additional risks include scarring of the eardrum (which can cause hearing loss), and persistent ear drum perforation from failure of the eardrum to heal after the ear tubes fall out.

Expectations after surgery
Ear tube insertion relieves pain and restores hearing. The frequency and severity of middle ear infections is significantly reduced. If ear infections recur and the tubes are nonfunctional, the operation may be repeated and another set of ear tubes can be inserted.

Patients usually leave the hospital the same day. Swimming is prohibited unless special earplugs are worn. Use of a cap while under a shower is recommended for several days or weeks.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 2, 2012
by Arthur A. Poghosian, M.D.

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