Ear tubes, or tympanostomy tubes, are tiny hollow cylinders that equalize pressure in the middle ear space. They are usually made of an inert material called fluoroplastic. There are multiple medications that can be used to improve middle ear ventilation including decongestants, steroids, and anti-allergy therapy. If medical therapy fails, ear tubes may be a low-risk option that has a high success rate. Ear tubes can help drain as well as prevent fluid from building up behind the eardrum or tympanic membrane.
The medical term for ear tube insertion is “bilateral myringotomy with tympanostomy tube insertion.” This is the most common procedure done for children in the United States. Children are often candidates for this procedure if they have recurrent ear infections or chronic otitis media with effusion (fluid behind the eardrum). Adults most often get this procedure if they have chronic otitis media with effusion, or eustachian tube dysfunction. Adults who have eustachian tube dysfunction often complain of ear pressure and popping, and difficulty with altitude changes such as diving or flying.
Ear tube insertion can be done with or without general anesthesia. The majority of adults are able to tolerate this procedure in the office with a local numbing medication. This results in almost no down-time. After the tubes are placed, most people do not notice that they are there. The only precautions to take is to avoid water in the ear canal, especially pool water.