Fast Facts

It’s day surgery and you can return to work 24 hours later.

After surgery, keep the ears dry with ear plugs for swimming, bathing and showering until the tubes come out. This can be up to 12 months.

If ear discharge (pus or liquid running out of the ears) happens any time in the year after surgery, start antibiotic ear drops within 24 hours.

What is this for and is it effective?

The tubes are a temporary replacement for the normal function of the Eustachian tube. This is the tube that runs from the back of the nose to the middle ear. The tube opens to allow air to pass into the middle ear and equalise the middle ear pressure.

Tubes are helpful for people who have:

  • frequent painful middle ear infections (acute otitis media),
  • hearing loss due to fluid in the middle ear (otitis media with effusion or glue ear),
  • retracted/damaged ear drums due to low middle ear pressure (atelectatic ear disease or cholesteatoma),
  • ear pain during aeroplane flights (barotrauma or pressure trauma).

Frequently Asked Questions

What could go wrong? Is there a chance that surgery could make me worse?

Temporary side effects:   

  • The tubes are temporary. As the ear drum heals the tube is pushed out into the ear canal. This usually takes 9-12 months. Occasionally a tube becomes blocked, or moves out too quickly or moves into the middle ear and needs to be replaced. Sometimes the tube remains in place for longer than expected and needs to be removed.
  • Infections can occur, with ear discharge, and this is treated with ear drops.
  • Tinnitus (noise in the ears) may sometimes be worse after insertion of tubes.
  • Occasionally adults feel worse with tubes than they did before the operation. If this is the case the tubes can be removed.

Permanent side effects: 

  • In 1:500 people, the hole in the ear drum does not heal and an operation may be required to heal the ear drum.
  • In 1:2000 people, there can be a permanent small drop in hearing after tube insertion or if the hole in the ear drum doesn’t heal.
  • These problems are more common in adults than children and are more common in people with an abnormal soft palate.
Could I need more surgery or treatment in the future?

Yes, it is common to need more treatment. The tubes are a temporary replacement of Eustachian tube function and do not actively improve the Eustachian tubes. If your Eustachian tubes don’t start to function, you will need another set of tubes. For most children, function improves with growth.

  • 1:4 people need another set of ventilation tubes inserted after the first set come out.
  • 1:16 people need more than 2 sets of ventilation tubes.
  • 1:1000 children don’t improve with time and need ventilation tubes throughout their life.
  • 1:500 people need an operation to heal the hole in the ear drum.
What are the alternatives to surgery? Are they appropriate for me?

If the problem is mild you can wait 12 weeks as sometimes the ears improve with time, particularly during summer. Forcing the Eustachian tube to open with ear popping or an Otovent device may also be effective. If ear problems occur only during plane travel, try using Ear Plane ear plugs during flights.

For adults with middle ear disease as well as inner ear deafness, a hearing aid can be used.

What if I choose not to have surgery?

For mild ear disease, it may be ok not to have surgery. You can have a check-up and hearing test in 3 months to monitor the disease.

For severe ear disease with hearing loss, especially if combined with speech delay or other developmental problems, not having treatment may affect your ability to speak and learn well.

Severe ear drum damage (atelectasis or retraction) will result in permanent hearing loss and cholesteatoma, if untreated.

See should I have surgery for more information.

How should I prepare for surgery?

Have ear plugs fitted by the practice nurse a few weeks before surgery. If the ear becomes infected within 14 days before surgery, contact your surgeon to start antibiotics tablets and drops. If the ear is infected on the day of surgery, there is a high risk of chronic infection after surgery and the surgery may be cancelled until the infection has healed.

See preparing for surgery for more information.

When will I come into hospital? How long will the operation take? How long will I stay in hospital?

You will come into hospital on the day of surgery. The operation takes 15 minutes for each ear. You will go home around 2 hours after surgery.

If you are having another procedure at the same time (for example tonsillectomy or adenoidectomy) you will need to read the information about these procedures as the times will be longer.

How long will I need off work/school/sport?

You need 24 hours off work, sport and driving after a general anaesthetic and one week off swimming. You can fly 24 hours after surgery.

Will I be awake or asleep for the operation? What kind of anaesthetic will I have?

Children always have a general anaesthetic. Adults may have a general anaesthetic (completely asleep or unconscious) or a local anaesthetic (awake with the ear numbed with cream or injection).

See anaesthesia for more information.

How will I feel after surgery?

There will be antibiotic ear drops in the ear canals. You will have little pain. Some people notice improvement in hearing immediately.

What do I need to do to recover well?

Wear ear plugs for any contact with water to reduce the chance of infection. For the first week, avoid swimming and use ear plugs for bathing and showering. After the first week, wear ear plugs when swimming as well. If there is persistent fluid running from the ear, commence antibiotic ear drops. These will be given to you before you leave hospital. If in doubt, contact your surgeon.

When will I see the surgeon?

The surgeon will check on you in the recovery room then see you in the office one week after surgery and again 12 months after surgery. You may have a hearing test during one of these office visits. The surgeon needs to continue to monitor your ears until the tubes have come out, the ear drums have healed and you no longer have ear disease.

What should I do if I need help or advice?

You can ring the surgeon or practice nurse during business hours on 55605411. For non emergency advice outside business hours, ring the nurse at the hospital where you had surgery. For urgent care outside business hours, attend your nearest emergency department.

Click here for information about Dr Clancy’s on call schedule.

Is there any more information specific to my situation?

Your surgeon will take into consideration your work, sports/hobbies, support at home and other health problems as well as past reactions or complications with anaesthesia and surgery.

Your surgeon will answer any specific questions you ask.

After middle ear ventilation tubes are inserted

You need 24 hours off work, sport and driving after a general anaesthetic and one week off swimming. You can fly 24 hours after surgery.

What do I need to do to recover well?

Keep the ear canals completely dry by using ear plugs for bathing and showering. Don’t swim until after Dr Clancy checks the ears one week after surgery. Dr Clancy’s practice nurse can fit ear plugs if needed. After the first week you can return to swimming with ear plugs. Using ear plugs helps prevent infection.

If an infection happens you will notice pus or fluid running from the ear. If this happens, start the Ciloxan antibiotic ear drops you were given to take home from hospital. It’s important to start the drops within 24 hours if an infection happens.

If you usually use hearing aids, it’s safe to use them again from today.

What is normal? How will I feel after surgery?

You may have mild blood stained or watery discharge from the ears for a few days after surgery then there should be no discharge at all. There should be minimal pain. Adults often feel different in the ears after tubes are inserted and this generally settles over a few weeks. “Different” can mean echo, noise in the ears, hearing your own body sounds or feeling like the hearing has reduced. Children can be unsettled in sleep after an anaesthetic, with more night waking or vivid dreams for a few days.

What is not normal?

If there is pus running out of the ear (this is called discharge or otorrhoea), use Ciloxan drops 5 drops into the ear twice a day for 10 days. These ear drops were placed in the ears at the time of surgery and you will be given the bottle to take home. Discard any unused portion after 14 days.

When will I see the surgeon?

The surgeon will:

  • Check on you in the recovery room.
  • Then see you in the office one week after surgery. You will be given an appointment card today.
  • And again 12 months after surgery.
  • Or earlier if you think there is an infection or your hearing changes.
  • You may have a hearing test during one of these office visits. The surgeon needs to continue to monitor your ears until the tubes have come out, the ear drums have healed and you no longer have ear disease.
What should I do if I need help or advice?

You can ring the surgeon or practice nurse during business hours on 55605411. For non emergency advice outside business hours, ring the nurse at the hospital where you had surgery. For urgent care outside business hours, attend your nearest emergency department.

Click here for information about Dr Clancy’s on call schedule.

Is there any more information specific to my situation?

You can use your hearing aids as soon as you like after surgery.

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