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What is a Tympanostomy?

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  • Written By: J.M. Willhite
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 31 October 2016
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The surgical implantation of tubes into an individual's ears in order to drain built-up fluid is known as a tympanostomy. The procedure is usually recommended for children as a treatment to alleviate symptoms and avoid complications associated with recurrent ear infections. A tympanostomy may also be performed on adults whose middle ear has been adversely affected by either injury or severe infection. Though minimal, there are some risks associated with the procedure and these should be discussed with a qualified health care provider prior to pursuing this treatment option.

Children whose frequent ear infections do not respond to antibiotic treatment may be recommended for a tympanostomy procedure. Those who exhibit difficulty hearing or speaking due to built-up, fluid-induced pressure of the middle ear may also undergo this procedure. In cases where a child has sustained infection- or fluid-induced structural damage to his or her inner ear and eardrum, a tympanostomy may be required to prevent further damage.

Adults may undergo a tympanostomy to alleviate symptoms associated with a destabilizing fluid build-up in the inner ear. Individuals who frequently fly or engage in activities such as deep sea diving may experience an injurious imbalance of inner ear pressure resulting from their exposure to extreme air pressure fluctuation. A surgical implantation of tubes into the ears may also be necessary for those who have experienced complications associated with a severe infection, such as meningitis.

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Conducted under general anesthesia, a tympanostomy involves the insertion of a small tube into the individual's eardrum to equalize the pressure between his or her middle and outer ear. During the procedure, a surgeon will make a small incision in the eardrum to allow for placement of the tube. Once the tube is positioned, air and fluid may flow more easily in the middle ear, allowing for a stabilization of pressure. Made of either plastic or metal, the tube may remain in the eardrum for up to a year before coming out on its own. The incision in which the tube was placed should heal on its own within a year following the tube's expulsion.

Prior to the procedure, all medications and supplements being taken should be reported to the attending physician to prevent complications. The individual should not consume any food or drink 12 hours prior to surgery. Those who undergo this procedure are generally discharged from the hospital the same day and may resume normal physical activities without restriction within 24 hours. As a precautionary measure, ear drops or antibiotics may be prescribed following surgery to prevent infection.

As with any surgical procedure, there are certain general risks associated with a tympanostomy, including excessive bleeding and infection. Complications associated with the use of general anesthesia include allergic reaction and breathing difficulty. Risks which are specific to a tympanostomy procedure include a scarring or rupture of the eardrum and drainage from the ear, which may contain blood.

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