What are ear tubes?

Ear tubes are small, hollow cylinders made of plastic or metal that are inserted into the tympanic membrane (eardrum) during a surgery called a myringotomy.

Why are ear tubes used?

Ear tubes are often used in children who have had several middle ear infections (acute otitis media), or infections that have lasted longer than three months despite treatment. They are also used for people who are having trouble hearing because of a buildup of fluid (effusion) in the middle ear. If these conditions are not treated, they can lead to larger problems, such as difficulties with speech or permanent hearing loss.

In addition to draining fluid from the ear, ear tubes let air in to prevent buildup of fluid in the middle ear.

Ear tube surgery is one of the most common surgeries in children, but it is not recommended as the first treatment for ear infection.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 06/19/2018.


  • American Academy of Otolaryngology/Head and Neck Surgery. Ear tubes Accessed 6/22/2018.
  • Merck Manual. Myringotomy. Accessed 6/22/2018.
  • National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Ear Infections in Children. Accessed 6/22/2018.

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