Ear tubes are tiny little microscopic tubes that are placed in the eardrum of individuals who either have recurrent ear infections or persistent fluid in the middle ear. We most often talk about ear tubes in the context of children, because the placement of ear tubes is a very common procedure in young children. Young children who have recurrent ear infections despite the use of antibiotics, or have persisting fluid between their acute ear infections, or just have fluid will often times be told that they need to have tubes placed in the ear.
This tube is called a myringotomy tube. When we make a little hole in the eardrum, that little hole is called a myringotomy, and so the tube that goes through it is called a myringotomy tube. A myringotomy tube can be placed in an adult or an older child in the office under a topical anesthetic, but younger children often have to have this procedure done in the hospital, in a controlled environment, under general anesthesia.
There are many different types of ear tubes, and the main significance of type has to do with how long the tube will stay in your ear. So there are little tubes that will stay in for six to nine months, and that should almost always be the first type of tube used. There are other tubes that will stay in place for years.
The shorter the duration that the tube is left the less likely that you will have a complication from the tube. The most common complication from a tube is a hole in the eardrum that doesn't heal and needs to be operated on. About ten percent of children and adults who have a tube will get some infections around the tube, and occasionally, the tube will have to be removed in order to resolve the infection.