Many children will suffer from a middle ear infection in their first year, caused by fluid building up in the small tube that connects their nasal passage to their ear (the eustachian tube). When the middle ear is plugged it can be painful and make hearing difficult.

Overview of ear tubes

For chronic or more serious ear infections, a doctor may recommend surgery. The most common surgical procedure is placing ear tubes, also called tympanostomy (tim-pan-AW-stowme) tubes or pressure equalization tubes, in a child’s eardrum. 

These tubes help to prevent fluid from clogging up the middle ear space and allows the eardrum to function normally. This outpatient procedure is most common for children between one to three years of age.

Signs and symptoms

If your child frequently suffers from pain or hearing problems due to ear infections, you may want to ask your primary care provider or pediatrician about ear tubes. You may notice your infant pulling or rubbing their ear, or having trouble balancing. 


Ear tubes can improve your child’s hearing without affecting their speech or cognitive development. They may sleep better and be happier overall without the pain and discomfort of fluid in their ear.


There are a few minor risks involved with ear tubes. Some children may still suffer from ear infections following surgery. The tube may also leave a small hole in the eardrum, which can be easily fixed through surgery after the tube is removed. Tubes generally fall out after about one year, but if they stay in too long a surgeon may need to remove them.

After-surgery care

Following an ear tube procedure, a child may experience some nausea and pain. If this happens to your child, have him or her lie quietly without too much movement or activity while nibbling on ice chips or taking small sips of clear liquid. 

For kids under two, try water, apple juice, or Pedialyte to ensure they don’t get dehydrated. For older children, give them Popsicles, Gatorade, Jell-O, or soda. If your child is in pain give them Tylenol in addition to any antibiotics or medications your doctor may have prescribed.


To ensure your child’s ear tubes work effectively, you will want to take good care of them. Following the procedure, you can expect to have a follow-up appointment with your doctor or surgeon. Your child may need to use ear drops, or wear ear plugs when they are around water. If your child’s ears seem to drain excess fluid, or if they have a fever or ear pain, call your healthcare provider.

© 2018 Intermountain Healthcare. All rights reserved. The content presented here is for your information only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, and it should not be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. Please consult your healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns.