Tympanostomy tube insertion is the placement of a tube through the tympanic membrane or eardrum. It is performed to relieve the pressure behind the patient's eardrum so that the ears can function normally.

The procedure is usually performed as an outpatient procedure under general anesthesia in children, and local anesthesia in the office in adults. The procedure involves making a small incision in the eardrum, suctioning out accumulated fluid in the middle ear space, and then inserting a small tube that fits through the eardrum. The tube equilibrates pressure between the middle ear space and ear canal, essentially functioning like the eustachian tube. The actual procedure is usually performed in under ten minutes (anesthesia in children takes additional time).

Ear tube insertion may be recommended when fluid builds up behind the eardrum and does not resolve on its own over a period of months. Fluid buildup may cause some hearing loss while it is present. Most patients do not have long-term damage to their hearing or their ability to speak, even when the fluid remains for many months.

An ear infection is another reason for inserting an ear tube. If an infection does not go away with the usual medical treatment, or if a patient has many ear infections over a short period of time, the doctor may recommend ear tubes.

Other indications for tympanostomy tube insertion may be barotrauma (pressure injury) from flying or deep sea diving, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, or a complication from a severe ear infection, such as mastoiditis, brain infection, meningitis, or facial nerve paralysis.

Risks of this surgery are scarring of the eardrum and drainage from the ear. These complications do not usually last long. They also do not usually cause problems in patients. Your doctor can explain these complications in more detail. There is also a very small risk of a hole remaining in the eardrum after the tube comes out.

The benefits of tympanostomy tube placement are restoration of hearing, reduction of ear infections and the need for frequent antibiotics, easy insertion, safe with minimal complications, temporary, and painless.

Unfortunately, in children a short general anesthetic is needed and precautions should be taken when submerging the ears during swimming. It is usually not necessary to take these precautions while showering, or bathing in a tub.