Ear Infections Sometimes Need Surgery

Almost everyone has an ear infection story to tell. There is probably one common thread: the infection happened as a child. Many children are prone to ear infections. Most kids will get at least one infection by age 3. Ear infections are an inflammation of the middle ear. In some cases, surgery helps treat the condition. The doctor may perform a myringotomy or tympanostopy. But what’s the difference?

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Why do ear infections happen?

Before going into the surgical details, parents and kids alike should understand what’s happening in the ear. The ear has 3 parts: the outer ear, middle, and inner ear. The eustachian tube then connects the middle ear to the nasal area. This tube helps with balance, pressure, and drains fluid from the ear. If the tubes become inflamed, this can cause a buildup of fluid in the middle ear. The resulting bacteria can cause swelling, pain, fever, and reduced balance. Children are more prone to infections as the ear is still growing and developing.

Treatment and chronic infections

Doctors treat most ear infections with pain medication and antibiotics. Ear infections usually subside within a few days. However, fluid buildup can last several weeks. Parents must make sure to follow the doctor’s instructions to resolve the issue. If the ear infection happens several times a year and does not respond to antibiotics, further treatment may be needed. The fluid buildup may not be allowing the child to fight off future infections. At this point, the doctor may opt to perform ENT surgery. The procedure may be a myringotomy or a tympanostomy.

Cutting to the chase with myringotomy

An ENT surgeon will perform a myringotomy. Myringotomy is a quick, outpatient procedure to relieve pressure and fluid. The patient will be under general anesthesia. The surgeon then makes a tiny incision at the entrance of the middle ear, called the tympanic membrane. Sometimes, the surgeon then uses a small tool to suction out any excess liquid. Over time, myringotomies have minimal scarring and discomfort. The procedure has a high success rate and can even prevent future infections.

Supporting surgery with tubes

Myringotomy is the primary procedure to resolve chronic ear infections. However, the surgeon may perform a companion procedure called tympanostomy. With tympanostomy, the surgeon inserts small tubes into the cut created by myringotomy. The tubes allow excess fluid to drain out of the middle ear. Tympanostomy tubes also keep the middle ear ventilated while improving hearing. An ENT surgeon will often perform both procedures in the same session.

Myringotomy and tympanostomy together

The major difference comes down to surgeon preference. Since tympanostomy is a supporting procedure, doctors can perform myringotomy without the tubes. However, tympanostomy tubes have a high success rate. Studies show that tympanostomy helps with healing, hearing, and reduces the chances of reinfection. So in many cases, the surgeon will opt for ear tubes. Tympanostomy tubes are safe and typically fall out after several months as the incision heals.

Consider surgery today

If a doctor decides on surgery, the words myringotomy and tympanostomy will come up in conversation. Myringotomy can bring much-need relief. And the supporting tympanostomy tubes allow the middle ear to stay ventilated. Parents should speak with an ENT doctor about the child’s chronic ear infections immediately.

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