Why does my child need ear tubes?

Ear tubes are recommended for children who either get lots of ear infections or have fluid behind the eardrum that doesn’t go away. Both of these problems are most common between the ages of 6 months and 3 years, although older children sometimes have these problems too.

fingers holding ear tube

How do ear tubes work?

During an ear infection, fluid builds up behind the eardrum in a place called the middle ear space. Normally, when the ear infection has run its course the fluid drains out of the middle ear into the back of the nose through the body's natural drainage tube called the Eustachian tube (yoo-STAY-shun).

Sometimes this fluid doesn't go away because the Eustachian tube remains swollen and can't open. Fluid trapped behind the eardrum causes a hearing loss because it prevents the eardrum from vibrating normally.

Ear tubes are small plastic or metal tubes that are surgically inserted into the eardrum (also called the tympanic membrane).

Ear tubes also allow air to get into the middle ear. Just like the big bubbles in the water tank on top of a water cooler, air needs to get into the middle ear in order for the fluid to drain out. Over time this "ventilation" helps to decrease swelling in the Eustachian tube and allows it to function normally again. This is why ear tubes are sometimes called ventilation tubes or pressure equalization tubes (PE tubes for short).

middle ear schema