A myringotomy is an outpatient surgical procedure in which a very small slit is made in the ear drum so that a buildup of fluid can be drained. It is most commonly seen in the treatment of chronic ear inflammations and infections, and it is usually combined with the use of antibiotics to resolve the infection. This procedure does not take very long, and the healing rate is usually quite rapid. The significant increase in patient comfort after a myringotomy is often greatly appreciated.
Classically, when the ear drum is opened in a myringotomy, a small tube is fitted into the incision to promote drainage. This ensures that after the ear drum heals, fluid will not build up again and cause additional problems. Eventually, the healing ear drum will push the tubes out, although they can also be removed manually by a surgeon. The patient is also given antibiotics to promote healing of the ear drum and to resolve the underlying infection which led to a need for the myringotomy. Doctors try to avoid repeating the procedure, as repeat surgeries can lead to hardening of the ear drum.
The biggest risk of a myringotomy procedure is hearing loss or damage to the hearing, typically caused by perforation of the ear drum. It is also possible to develop a benign tumor called a cholesteatoma in the ear, which will require surgery. Sometimes the myringotomy tubes migrate inwards during the healing process, necessitating a surgery to remove the tubes. These complications are generally rare.
For adults, a myringotomy surgery can be performed without the use of an anesthetic. The patient will need to hold still, and some pressure and discomfort may be experienced. Children are often anesthetized, especially if they are young, as uncooperative patients can complicate the procedure considerably. If anesthesia is used, there is an increased risk of surgical complications related to the anesthesia, but the development of very safe and effective anesthesia techniques has significantly reduced the incidence of such complications.
A doctor will recommend an ear tube surgery for patients who experience chronic ear infections which result in a repeated buildup of fluid behind the ear drum. The concern is that such ear infections could lead to infections in other regions of the body, or to a loss of hearing, both of which are undesirable. A myringotomy will also relieve the pain and discomfort associated with ear infections.