Ear tubes for treating chronic ear infections

According to estimates from the American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, ear tube surgeries are performed on over 500,000 children every year. This makes ear tube surgeries one of the most common procedures used to help children. In addition, ear tubes are regularly used to help adult patients with their hearing and ear health.

Ear tubes, also known as pressure equalization tubes or simply PE tubes, are most commonly used to treat chronic or recurrent middle ear infections (acute otitis media), fluid buildup within the ear and hearing loss.

Ear tubes are small plastic or metal tubes that are surgically inserted into the eardrum. Ear tubes help drain the built-up fluid that can cause pain, hearing loss and infections.

Left untreated, chronic ear infections can lead to long-term hearing loss and cause trouble for children hitting developmental milestones, like walking and talking. Our board-certified ENT doctors use the latest techniques and technologies to help treat ear conditions that affect children and adults.

We’re here to help relieve the pain and frustration caused by hearing loss, recurrent ear infections and other chronic problems impacting the health of your ears. Our doctors will work with you and your family to find the most effective treatment options for you or your child.

To make an appointment, please choose a location and call to schedule.

The purpose of ear tubes (PE tubes)

When you are dealing with a cold or infection, the eustachian tubes in your ears can become congested. The eustachian tubes sit behind your eardrum in the part of your ear known as the “middle ear,” and they serve an important purpose.

When the eustachian tubes are working properly, they allow your ear to keep clear by helping your ear ventilate. Has your ear ever “popped?” That’s the eustachian tube opening up to keep the air pressure in your middle ear the same as the outside world.

But when the eustachian tubes are blocked or clogged due to a cold, allergies or nasal congestion, your middle ears do not ventilate and fluid can build up inside of the middle ear.

Buildup of fluid inside the middle ear can lead to ear infections, pain and sleep disruptions (especially in kids). Too much fluid in the middle ear also makes it hard for the eardrum to vibrate normally, which can cause hearing loss.

This is where ear tubes provide important relief.

Ear tubes allow air to flow through to the middle ear. This helps drain the fluid from the middle ear, and it should help the eustachian tube to start functioning normally again. Ear tubes usually fall out on their own in a process that typically takes 8 to 15 months.

Ear tubes are used to treat:

  • Chronic middle ear infections (otitis media)
  • Hearing loss caused by fluid buildup behind the eardrum
  • Recurrent acute otitis media
Ear tube surgery

The surgery to insert ear tubes is a brief one. For adults, it’s often done in the doctor’s office with some topical anesthesia applied to the eardrum. For children, we’ll give them general anesthesia so they sleep through the whole surgery.

The doctor will make a small incision in the eardrum. Next, gentle suction is used to remove fluid, and the ear tubes are inserted through the incision.

Recovery time is quick. We’ll give you post-surgery instructions that will aid in the healing process, but patients are usually ready to get back to normal, daily activities in about 24 hours.

For children who need repeated sets of ear tubes, an adenoidectomy may also be recommended to help treat recurrent or chronic ear infections.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

If you have concerns about the amount of ear infections your child has had, or if you are concerned that your child may be experiencing hearing loss, it might be time to talk to one of our primary care doctors or pediatricians. We’ll be able to review your child’s medical history and connect you to a specialist if additional expertise is needed.

No, you do not need a referral to make an appointment with one of our ENT doctors. If you have concerns about your child’s ears and would like to see a specialist, please choose a doctor and call to schedule an appointment.

Or choose a location and you can schedule an appointment over the phone.

We accept most health insurance plans, including Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, CIGNA, HealthPartners, Medica, Medicare, PreferredOne and many others.

Not sure what your insurance covers? Call the number on the back of your card for help looking at your options.

Don’t have your card in front of you? Here are member services numbers to help you get started: