A tympanostomy involves the insertion of tubes to allow fluid to drain from the middle ear. The procedure involves:
Postoperative Effects. Tympanostomy is a simple procedure, and the child almost never has to spend the night in the hospital. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) is sufficient for any postoperative pain in most children. Some children, however, may need codeine or other powerful pain relievers.
Generally, the tubes stay in the eardrum for at least several months before coming out on their own. On rare occasions, they will need to be surgically removed.
Complications. Otorrhea, drainage of secretion from the ear, is the most common complication after surgery and can be persistent in some children. It is usually treated with antibiotic eardrops.
More serious complications from the operation are very uncommon, but may include:
Success Rates. Hearing is almost always restored following tympanostomy. Failure to achieve normal or near-normal hearing is usually due to complicated conditions, such as preexisting ear problems or persistent OME in children who have had previous multiple tympanostomies. Persistent fluid is the main reason for continued impaired hearing. Only a small percentage of hearing loss cases can be attributed to complications of the operation itself.
Earplugs as a Precaution. Many doctors feel that children should use earplugs when swimming while the tubes are in place in order to prevent infection. Others feel that as long as the child does not dive or swim underwater, earplugs may not be necessary. Parents should talk to their child's doctor about this subject. Cotton balls coated with petroleum jelly are effective alternatives to ear plugs. Children do not need to wear earplugs while showering.
Follow-Up. Eventually, the tubes fall out as the hole in the eardrum closes. This may happen after several months or more than a year later. It is painless. In fact, the patient and parents may not even be aware that the tubes are out.
About 20 - 50% of children may have OME relapse and need additional surgery that involves adenoidectomy and myringotomy. Tube reinsertion may be recommended for children younger than 4 years of age.
Myringotomy is used to drain the fluid and may be used (with or without ear tube insertion) in combination with adenoidectomy as a repeat surgical procedure if initial tympanostomy is not successful. It is not effective as a sole surgical procedure. Myringotomy involves the following steps:
Adenoids are collections of spongy lymph tissue in the back of the throat, similar to the tonsils. Removal of the adenoids, called adenoidectomy, is usually only considered for OME if a pre-existing condition exists such as chronic sinusitis, nasal obstruction, or chronic adenoiditis (inflammation of the adenoids). Unless these conditions exist, adenoidectomy is not recommended for treatment of OME.
Adenoidectomy plus myringotomy (removal of fluid) may be performed if an initial tympanostomy (tube insertion) procedure is unsuccessful in resolving OME. This combination procedure works best in children ages 4 years or older. Tube insertion is recommended for children under 4 years of age. It is not necessary to perform an adenoidectomy along with tube insertion for children under 4 years of age.
Laser-assisted myringotomy is a technique that is being investigated as an alternative to conventional tympanostomy and myringotomy. At present, there is not enough evidence to say whether it is as good as ear tubes, the standard procedure. Some clinical trials have suggested that the success rate for laser-assisted myringotomy is half that of standard tympanostomy/myringotomy. Many insurance companies consider laser-assisted myringotomy to be an investigational procedure and will not pay for it.
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