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Myringotomy Tubes

What are myringotomy tubes (also called ear tubes, tympanostomy tubes, or ventilation tubes)?

Myringotomy tubes are small tubes that are surgically placed into your child's eardrum by an ear, nose and throat surgeon (otolarnygologist). The tubes may be made of plastic, metal or Teflon. The tubes are placed to help air enter the middle ear in order to reduce the risk of ear infections and/or prevent accumulation of fluid in the middle ear.

During an ear infection, fluid accumulates in the middle ear, which can affect your child's hearing. Sometimes, even after the infection is gone, some fluid may remain in the ear. The tubes help prevent fluid from building up.

About one million children each year have tubes placed in their ears. The most common ages for placement are from 1 to 3 years old. By the age of 5 years, most children have wider and longer eustachian tubes (the canal that links the middle ear with the throat area), thus allowing better drainage of fluid from the ear.

Who needs ear tubes?

The insertion of ear tubes may be recommended by your child's physician and/or a ear, nose and throat physician if any of the following conditions are present:

What are the risks and benefits of ear tubes?

The risks and benefits will be different for each child. It is important to discuss this with your child's physician and surgeon.

The following are some of the possible benefits that may be discussed:

The following are some of the risks that may be discussed:

How are ear tubes inserted?

Myringotomy is the surgical procedure that is performed to insert ear tubes. Insertion of the tubes is usually an outpatient procedure. This means that your child will have surgery, and then go home that same day. Before the surgery, you will meet with different members of the healthcare team who will be involved in your child's care. These may include:

Nurses - Day surgery nurses prepare your child for surgery. Operating room nurses assist the physicians during surgery. Recovery room (also called the Post-Anesthesia Care Unit) nurses care for your child as he or she emerges from general anesthesia.
Otolarnyngologists - Physicians who specialize in the placement of the tubes.
Anesthesiologists - Physicians with specialized training in anesthesia. Insertion of myringotomy tubes requires general anesthesia in children. This physician will perform a history and physical examination and formulate a plan of anesthesia for your child. The plan will be discussed with you and your questions will be answered.


Myringotomy involves making a small opening in the eardrum. A small tube is placed in the opening of the eardrum to ventilate the middle ear and to prevent fluid from accumulating. The child's hearing is restored after the fluid is drained. The tubes usually fall out on their own after six to twelve months.

Follow-up care is needed for your child based on the surgeon's recommendations. Usually, you will return in about four to six weeks, then at four to six month intervals until the tubes come out, the eardrums heal and your child no longer needs tubes. Your child's primary care physician will help manage the care of your child between these visits to the surgeon.

Care of the child after the ear tubes are inserted

The following instructions may be given to you following the placement of ear tubes in your child:

Discharge instructions

Please review The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia discharge instructions for Myringotomy with Tube Placement.

Reviewed by: Steven D. Handler, MD, MBE
Date: April 2009

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