PE Tubes (Ventilation Tubes)

Myringotomy and Ventilation (PE) Tube Placement

Many children and adults suffer from recurrent ear infections.  Although these infections are relatively easy to treat, a child or adult who does not get better with traditional medical management may be a candidate for ear tube surgery.  Middle ear fluid will often clear if left alone for several weeks.  Antibiotics or other medications, such as nasal sprays or steroids, may be given, depending on the situation.  If it does not clear, as is sometimes the case, it can cause substantial hearing loss at a critical time during a child’s language development or discomfort or hearing loss in the case of an adult.  These conditions are treatable with the placement of ventilation tubes.

Symptoms of Otitis Media Include:

  • Pulling or rubbing the ears because of ear pain
  • Fever
  • Fussiness or irritability
  • Fluid leaking from the ear
  • Changes in appetite or sleeping patterns
  • Trouble hearing

When Are Ventilation Tubes Necessary?

A patient who has the following symptoms may be a candidate for ear tube surgery:

  • Multiple ear infections that do not get better easily 
  • Persistent fluid build-up behind the eardrum
  • Hearing loss
  • Speech delay

What Causes Ear Infections?

Most middle ear infections are caused by blockage of the Eustachian tube, a very tiny tube connecting the middle ear to the area behind the nose.  This tube naturally opens every time you swallow or yawn.  When there is a difference in the pressure, a condition that may be caused by a cold, allergy, or even an airplane flight, a person may hear a “pop” in the ear when the tube opens.  When it fails to open, as is common in children and some adults, a middle ear infection or fluid may result.

What Are PE Tubes?

PE tubes are tiny plastic tubes placed in the eardrum to equalize pressure between the middle ear and the outside.

These are often only about a millimeter in diameter.

PE Tubes

How Are They Placed in the Eardrum?

Because they are so tiny, PE tubes are placed directly through the ear canal into the eardrum using a microscope.

The entire procedure takes only a minute or two.

Children are general given a light general anesthetic, but adults are usually done right in the office.

Diagram of PE Tube in Eardrum

What Can I Expect Afterward?

Insertion of the tubes is a virtually painless procedure.

Hearing is improved generally right away and the frequency of middle ear infections should decline considerably, if not completely.

Photo of PE Tube in Eardrum

Will Tubes Have to Be Placed Again after They Have Fallen Out?

PE tubes generally remain in the ears about 6 to 12 months and will usually fall out by themselves.  After this time the inflamed membranes in the ear and Eustachian tube should have returned to normal.  Nearly all children will get another ear infection at some point.  Most children, however, won’t need another set, but approximately 1 child in 5 will have to have them replaced.