Ear Tube Placement in Adults

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Ventilation Tubes in Adults. Westbury / Getty Images

The surgical placement of synthetic ear tubes is not nearly as common in adults as it is in small children but it can be necessary. Synthetic ear tubes are also sometimes called ventilation tubes, ear grommets, or tympanostomy tubes. They are placed inside of the auditory tube in order to hold it open and to allow proper ventilation and drainage of the middle ear.

Why Do Adults Need Ear Tubes?

The surgical placement of ear tubes is more common in children than adults because children have a naturally more narrow auditory tube which tends to be at a more horizontal angle than adults.

However, when the surgical placement of ear tubes becomes necessary in an adult it is often to treat the same conditions which require their placement in children. These conditions can include:

It should be noted that more than one of these conditions can be present at the same time. For example, auditory tube dysfunction can often lead to ear infections, persistent fluid in the ears or retracted ear drums.

How Are Ear Tubes Placed?

The surgical placement of ear tubes is a relatively simple procedure that involves making a small hole in the eardrum, with a scalpel or laser (this is technically called a myringotomy), and then inserting a synthetic tube.

The procedure is relatively simple and short, lasting only about 15 minutes.

Difference Between the Surgical Placement of Ear Tubes in Adults Versus Children

As previously mentioned, the procedure to place synthetic ear tubes is relatively simple and short, however, it does require the patient to remain still.

For this reason, small children are usually put under a general anesthetic. This may not be necessary for an adult who is more capable of remaining still during the procedure and sometimes ear tubes can be placed in adults right in a physician's office rather than a surgical setting.

Several types of synthetic ear drums exist and they vary in the materials they are made of as well as the shape (design) of the tubes. In small children, the tubes are often designed to fall out when the child has a growth spurt and their auditory tube naturally increases in diameter. This increase in diameter of the auditory tube often resolves ear problems in and of itself. In adults, the tubes are often shaped like a "T", and are designed to stay in place for a longer period of time since growth of the auditory tube is not anticipated.

After Surgery Care

The placement of ventilation tubes seldom causes a lot of pain and any discomfort can usually be treated with the over-the-counter pain medication, acetaminophen.

Sometimes your doctor may want you to use some antibiotic ear drops in the affected ear(s) following surgery. If this is the case be sure to follow the directions precisely to avoid the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. If you receive an anesthetic during the procedure you may feel tired, groggy, dizzy, or have some nausea following the procedure. You will be monitored before you leave the hospital or surgical center and given instructions about how to care for yourself at home prior to being discharged. You should listen to the instructions carefully and call your doctor with any questions or concerns you have after leaving. Most people can return to school or work the day after having tubes placed, but recovery times vary between individuals.

Sources:

American Academy of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery. Ear Tubes. Accessed: March 25, 2015 from http://www.entnet.org/content/ear-tubes

Medline Plus. Ear tube insertion. Accessed: March 29, 2015 from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003015.htm

Medscape. Ear Tube Insertion. Accessed: March 29, 2015 from http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1890757-overview#a30

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