More serious complications from the operation are very uncommon but may include:
- General anesthetic risks. Rarely, allergic reactions or other complications, such as throat spasm or obstruction, may occur. The risk is highest in children who have other medical conditions, most commonly upper respiratory infections, lung disease, or gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD). Anesthetic-related risks are nearly always easily treated.
- Tube blockage. Sometimes the tubes become blocked from sticky secretions or clotted blood after the operation.
- Persistent eardrum perforation. This condition occurs when the eardrum does not close after the tubes have come out. It is the most common serious complication, but it is very rare.
- Scarring can also occur, particularly in children who need more than one procedure, but it almost never affects hearing.
- Cholesteatomas, small cyst-like masses filled with keratin (skin cells), develop around the tube site in about 1% of patients.
Success Rates. Hearing is almost always restored following tympanostomy. Failure to achieve normal or near-normal hearing is usually due to complicated conditions, such as preexisting ear problems or persistent OME in children who have had previous multiple tympanostomies. Persistent fluid is the main reason for continued impaired hearing. Only a small percentage of hearing loss cases can be attributed to complications of the operation itself.
Earplugs as a Precaution. Many doctors feel that children should use earplugs when swimming while the tubes are in place in order to prevent infection. Others feel that as long as the child does not dive or swim underwater, earplugs may not be necessary. Parents should talk to their child's doctor about this subject. Cotton balls coated with petroleum jelly are effective alternatives to ear plugs. Children do not need to wear earplugs while showering.
Follow-Up. Eventually, the tubes fall out as the hole in the eardrum closes. This may happen after several months or more than a year later. It is painless. In fact, the patient and parents may not even be aware that the tubes are out.
About 20 - 50% of children may have OME relapse and need additional surgery that involves adenoidectomy and myringotomy. Tube reinsertion may be recommended for children younger than 4 years of age.
Myringotomy is used to drain the fluid and may be used (with or without ear tube insertion) in combination with adenoidectomy as a repeat surgical procedure if initial tympanostomy is not successful. It is not effective as a sole surgical procedure. Myringotomy involves the following steps:
- The surgeon makes a very small incision in the eardrum.
- Fluid is sucked out using a vacuum-like device.
- The fluid is usually examined for identifying specific bacteria.
- The eardrum heals in about a week.
Review Date: 05/03/2011
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.