According to the National Center for Health Statistics, each year almost 670,000 ear tube surgeries are performed on children under 15 years old. This makes it the most common outpatient surgery for children in the U.S. So, as many parents often ask, what are ear tubes for?
Ear tubes provide ventilation and drainage of fluid build up in the middle ear by providing a small passageway through the eardrum, or tympanic membrane. No bigger than a nail head, ear tubes are usually tiny, hollow plastic parts. The illustration below depicts the size, shape and location of an ear tube.
Photo Credit: Rosenfeld RM. A Parent’s Guide to Ear Tubes. Hamilton: BC Decker Inc., 2005.
We were curious about all the colorful ear tubes the Oto was capturing, so we asked Dr. Rashleigh to answer some of our questions. Dr. Stephen Rashleigh is an Otolaryngologist at the Ear, Nose and Throat Associates of Savannah and a CellScope Pioneer.
Q: When and why are ear tubes used?
Dr. Rashleigh: Tubes are placed for two main reasons:
1) Chronic recurrent ear infections. This is most common among children and has a high success rate in decreasing the number of infections. If the patient gets a subsequent infection with the tubes in place, it can be treated with topical antibiotic ear drops, without taking antibiotics by mouth.
2) Persistent middle ear effusion (or fluid in the middle ear) with hearing loss that is present over 3 months.
Q: How long are tubes needed for?
Dr. Rashleigh: They typically stay in place for 12-18 months. Most children who get ear tubes only need this once.
Q: What are the risks involved?
Dr. Rashleigh: The risks of tubes include: persistent ear infections, tympanic membrane perforation when the tube falls out, and need for tube removal if it never falls out.
Q: What impact do they have on hearing?
Dr. Rashleigh: The tubes themselves do not cause any loss of hearing.
Q: Do tubes prevent you from swimming?
Dr. Rashleigh: Most people can bathe and swim with these tubes.
Dr. Rashleigh captured these two great images of ear tubes using his CellScope Oto last month.
The right ear of a patient #1 with Eustachian tube dysfunction.
Patient #1 (above) is a 32-year-old patient who recently had an ear tube put in. He had a history of chronic ear pressure on the right side and frequent fluid build up in the middle ear. Whenever he flew in an airplane this patient experienced ear pain, which could temporarily be relieved by auto-insufflating (“popping”) his ears. He was diagnosed with Eustachian tube dysfunction and his symptoms resolved with placement of this ear tube.
Patient #2: Left ear image of a patient with chronic Eustachian tube dysfunction.
Patient #2 (above) is an 85-year-old patient who has chronic Eustachian tube dysfunction. The picture above was taken after a replacement tube was put in place. The previous tube had fallen out after he developed an ear infection.
Thanks for sharing, Dr. Rashleigh!