The most common questions about ear tubes

November 20, 2020
PHOTO: Getty Images

If your child suffers from multiple ear infections and medications haven’t provided relief, an effective option may be ear tubes, or myringotomy tubes. Below are the most commonly asked questions I receive on the topic.

How many ear infections need to diagnosed prior to recommendation for ear tubes? 

If a child has at least four ear infections in six months or has had consistent fluid behind there ear drum for three months, then an ear tube may be recommended by an ear, nose and throat provider (otolaryngologist). The provider also looks at speech development in relation to the ear infections.

If surgery is recommended, these are the expectations once the ear tube is in place in the eardrum. 

  • The tube will allow an avenue for the drainage to come out of the middle ear through the ear canal. 
  • The tube usually will last anywhere from six to 18 months. The body makes the ear tube come out on its own.

Should there be drainage from an ear tube after surgery?

There can be drainage after surgery, but not always. We advise you to use the ear drops after surgery for three to five days to help heal the middle ear after tubes are placed. You will need to pump the medicine into the ear by pushing on the tragus (the cartilage in front of the ear) at least five to eight times. 

Will a child have drainage from the ear tube if they have an ear infection?

Yes; the ear will have yellow, green or white drainage if there is an ear infection. At the first sign of ear drainage, a parent should start using the ear drops given after surgery. They need to use four drops in both ears for a minimum of seven days. 

What if the ear drainage is getting worse and it is the third day of using the ear drops?

When the ear drainage is not improving with the ear drops, please make an appointment with your ear, nose and throat provider. We have special equipment to help assist the medicine to get behind the tube that your pediatrician, urgent care or ER does not have available to them in their practice. We always try to use the ear drops over starting an oral antibiotic. 

Will the ear tubes help with my child’s speech development?

Typically, ear tubes will help with a child’s speech development because your child is no longer hearing things as if they were in a bubble. The sounds will not be dulled by the fluid that was trapped behind the ear drum prior to ear tube placement.    

Will my child have to wear ear plugs when in water?

No; a child does not have to wear ear plugs if they are in chlorinated water, such as salt water pool or chlorinated pool. A clean bath tub is another place an ear plug is unnecessary. However, if in the ocean, river or lake, an ear plug will be necessary. The plug prevents germs from entering the ear and causing infection.  

Will my child need follow up after the surgery?

Yes; your child’s ear, nose and throat provider will watch the number of ear infections or ear drainage the child has had once the tubes are in place. Also, we like to make sure the speech is progressing in a normal way. So, the ear, nose and throat provider would see your child every six months until the ear tubes come out of the ear drum. 

To learn more about otolaryngology services at Texas Children’s Hospital, visit our website.

Post by:

Katherine Kennedy, CPNP

Children and their families have been my focus my entire nursing career.  I love to help and educate the families in our practice.  It is a joy to watch children go through the many changes in life from infancy through young adulthood.  It is a miraculous process one that I'm honored to be...

Read More