After Tympanostomy (Ear Tubes)

Toddler sitting on woman's lap while doctor examines her ear with otoscope.

Your child’s hearing should improve once the tubes are in place. For best results, follow up as instructed by your child’s surgeon. In some cases, ear problems may continue. But you can help prevent ear infections by using good ear care.

Follow-up visit

  • Shortly after the surgery, your child’s surgeon may want to examine your child. This follow-up visit ensures that the tubes are still in place and that your child’s ears are healing.

  • After the initial follow-up, the healthcare provider may want to see your child every few months. Do your best to keep these visits. They’re the only way to make sure the tubes remain in place and stay open.

  • Most tubes stay in place for about a year. Some last longer. The life of the tube often depends on your child’s growth. Most tubes fall out on their own. In rare cases, tubes need to be removed by the surgeon.

Fewer problems

  • Even with tubes, your child may still get ear infections. Cranky behavior, ear drainage, and fever are all clues that you should be calling your child's healthcare provider. But as long as the tubes are working, you can expect fewer problems and a quicker recovery.

  • If an infection does happen, it will likely respond to antibiotic ear drops. For more severe infections, oral antibiotics may be added. Always make sure your child finishes the entire prescription, even if the symptoms go away. Otherwise, the medicine may not work. Use only ear drops prescribed by your child’s provider.

Ear care

  • Ask your child's healthcare provider if your child’s ears should be protected from contact with water. Your child may need to wear earplugs during swimming and bathing if their head goes under water.

  • Don't use any ear drops in your child's ears, unless prescribed by the surgeon or another provider.

  • Don't use cotton swabs to clean the ears. Used carelessly, they can clog tubes with wax or even damage the eardrum.

When to call your child's healthcare provider

Call your child's provider if your child is showing any of these signs:

  • Bloody drainage from the ears

  • Drainage from the ears that doesn't stop

  • Ear pain. Small children who can't tell you they are in pain may pull and rub their ears.

  • Fever (see Fever and children, below)

  • Trouble hearing

  • Problems with balance

Fever and children

Use a digital thermometer to check your child’s temperature. Don’t use a mercury thermometer. There are different kinds of digital thermometers. They include ones for the mouth, ear, forehead (temporal), rectum, or armpit. Ear temperatures aren’t accurate before 6 months of age. Don’t take an oral temperature until your child is at least 4 years old.

Use a rectal thermometer with care. It may accidentally poke a hole in the rectum. It may pass on germs from the stool. Follow the product maker’s directions for correct use. If you don’t feel OK using a rectal thermometer, use another type. When you talk to your child’s healthcare provider, tell him or her which type you used.

Below are guidelines to know if your child has a fever. Your child’s healthcare provider may give you different numbers for your child.

A baby under 3 months old:

  • First, ask your child’s healthcare provider how you should take the temperature.

  • Rectal or forehead: 100.4°F (38°C) or higher

  • Armpit: 99°F (37.2°C) or higher

A child age 3 months to 36 months (3 years):

  • Rectal, forehead, or ear: 102°F (38.9°C) or higher

  • Armpit: 101°F (38.3°C) or higher

Call the healthcare provider in these cases:

  • Repeated temperature of 104°F (40°C) or higher

  • Fever that lasts more than 24 hours in a child under age 2

  • Fever that lasts for 3 days in a child age 2 or older