Middle Ear Ventilation Tubes

Middle ear ventilation tubes are placed in the ear drum to help drain accumulated fluid and equalize pressure between the middle ear and the outside atmosphere. Another name for middle ear ventilation tube is pneumatic equalizing tube (P.E. tubes).

P.E. tube placement is the most common operation done on children. A large number of children have problems with fluid in the ears and recurrent ear infections. P.E. tubes work well for dealing with both of these problems.

Some of the indications for P.E. tube placement are:

  • Recurrent ear infections, greater than four or five bouts per year
  • Fluid in the middle ear which doesn’t clear in a six to twelve week period.
  • Infection which doesn’t clear up with antibiotic treatment.
  • Severely retracted ear drums.

P.E. tube placement requires out patient surgery with general anesthesia. In the older patient the procedure can be done under local anesthesia. However to many people the thought of getting a shot in the ear is very frightening.

Placing P.E. tubes in the ear drums is a very short operation (approximately ten minutes) and the risks are very small. Once the tubes are in place the only limitation the person has is he can’t get any water in the ears. Water can flow through the tube and carry dirt and bacteria into the middle ear. If this happens the ear will get infected and start to drain.

Ears with P.E. tubes should not be draining. If there is drainage coming out of the ear, the ear is infected and needs medical treatment.

Once P.E. tubes are in place the patient should have regular check ups with the doctor approximately three or four times per year. The only care with P.E. tubes is the precaution not to get water in the ears. When a person bathes or showers the ears need to be protected with either a cotton ball soaked with Vaseline or a silicone plug. The silicone plugs are nice because they are reusable and mold to the outer ear. The plugs are available at most pharmacies.

When a child is going to be in water, a bathing cap over ear plugs will protect the ears from water. The child who swims with ear plugs and a bathing cap minimizes the risk of getting water in the ears. If water does get into the ears they may get infected and the child will need to see the doctor to get treatment. P.E. tubes are a wonderful invention which works great to prevent the build up of middle ear fluid and recurrent ear infections. By using P.E. tubes in children, ear doctors have almost eliminated the serious ear condition in adults known as Cholesteatoma. (See Chapter 7)