Adult Advice Sheet

(Paediatric Advice Sheet click here)

What are ventilation tubes?

Ventilation tubes are very small plastic tubes, which sit in a hole in the eardrum.  They let air get in and out of the ear.  This keeps the ear healthy.

Why do we use ventilation tubes? 

Some people get fluid behind the eardrum. This is sometimes called ‘glue ear’.  It is very common in young children but it can happen in adults too.  This can be due to the Eustachian tube (the passage between the ear and the back of the nose) not working properly and, in children, from enlarged adenoids.  Most young children will have glue ear at some time but it doesn’t always cause problems.  We only need to treat it if it is causing problems with hearing or speech or if it is causing lots of ear infections. 

How long do ventilation tubes stay in for? 

Ventilation tubes fall out by themselves as the eardrum grows.  They may stay in for six months, or a year, or sometimes even longer.  You may not notice when they drop out.

Do I have to have ventilation tubes? 

Glue ear tends to get better by itself but this can take a while.  We like to leave patients alone initially or treat with nose drops and/or antibiotics.  We then see you again and decide whether we need to operate.  If the glue ear is not causing any problems we can just wait for it to settle by itself.  If it is causing problems with poor hearing, ear discomfort or lots of infections it may be better to put ventilation tubes in. 

Can anything else help? 

Sometimes we use nasal drops, sprays and/or antibiotics to see if they help.  A hearing aid can be used to treat poor hearing.  This would mean that you would not need an operation. 

Are ventilation tubes sore? 

Ventilation tubes are not usually sore at all.  You can take painkillers if you need to.  Ventilation tubes should improve your hearing straight away.  Some patients think everything sounds too loud until they get used to having normal hearing again. 

What about ear infections? 

Most people with ventilation tubes do not get any ear infections.  If you see yellow fluid coming out of the ear it may be an infection.  It will not be as sore as a normal infection and you won’t be as ill.  If you get some eardrops from your doctor the problem will quickly settle.  Some doctors may prefer to give you antibiotics by mouth instead of eardrops.

Can I swim with ventilation tubes in? 

You can start swimming one month after the operation, as long as you do not dive under the water.  You do not have to use earplugs but they are recommended.  The hole in the ventilation tube is very small but water can get through if it is dirty or has shampoo or soap in it so you need to be careful in the bath or the shower.  For hair washing you can plug your ears with a cotton-wool ball covered in Vaseline. 

How long will I be off work? 

You should be able to get back to normal the day after the operation. 

Paediatric Advice Sheet click here.