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Questions and Answers – Ventilation Tubes

Why are ventilation tubes needed?

A child’s Eustachian tubes sometimes can't drain fluid away from the middle ear into the throat very well. If fluid builds up behind the eardrum, bacteria can grow. This is how ear infections begin. After an ear infection is gone, fluid often remains behind the eardrum.

A very small ear ventilation tube (vent tube) is put into the eardrum to allow fluid drainage and help prevent further infections.

Normal ear

Detail - Normal ear


Infected middle ear

Detail - Infected middle ear

What is the Eustachian tube?

The Eustachian tube is a canal that runs from the middle part of each ear to the back of the throat. It does two things. First, it keeps the air pressure inside the middle ear the same as the air pressure outside the ear. This helps you hear better. Second, it helps fluid from the middle ear drain into the throat.

In young children, the Eustachian tube is smaller, narrower, and more horizontal. This makes it easier for germs to move from the throat to the ear and for the tube to become blocked. Most children stop having ear infections around age 6 because their Eustachian tubes are more fully developed.

What are the benefits of a ventilation tube?

A vent tube lets fluid drain out of the middle ear, which reduces the chance of ear infections coming back. It is a very common and standard procedure with little risk.

When should a ventilation tube be used?

A vent tube is usually recommended if your child has several of the following conditions:

  • There's been fluid in the middle ear continuously for over 4 months
  • There's fluid in both ears
  • Recurrent ear infections haven’t responded to continuous antibiotic treatment for several months

How can I help prevent my child from getting ear infections again?

Recurrent ear fluid buildup and ear infections are usually caused by a blocked Eustachian tube. Other factors might make your child’s condition worse:

  • Exposure to second-hand smoke
  • Drinking from a bottle while lying down which can cause fluid to drain into the middle ear space
  • Nasal allergies, including hay fever, asthma, eczema, and food allergies can cause more frequent buildup of fluid in the middle ears
  • Snoring caused by enlarged or swollen adenoids

 

Information on this site should not be used as a substitute for talking with your doctor. Always talk with your doctor about diagnosis and treatment information.

Last updated: 22 Sep 2010

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