What are ear tubes?

Ear tubes, also known as PE tubes or Pressure Equalization tubes, are small cylindrical silicone or plastic tubes that are surgically placed into the ear drum.

When are ear tubes necessary?

Ear tubes are typically placed for 4 reasons:

  1. Recurrent Otitis Media. This is the most common reason for ear tube placement for children between the ages of 1 and 6 years old. Tubes are generally considered for patients who are having 5 or more ear infections per year.
  2. Persistent Acute Otitis Media. Antibiotic resistant bacteria are becoming more prevalent and we are seeing more and more ear infections that will not clear with oral antibiotics. If an acute infection is not clearing with 2-3 courses of broad spectrum antibiotics, ear tubes are frequently recommended.
  3. Otitis Media with Effusion. Middle ear fluid is common for several weeks following an ear infection. If however, fluid persists for 3 or more months, ear tubes are frequently recommended.
  4. Eustachian tube dysfunction. While most children will outgrow their tendency towards ear infections around the age of 6, some go on to have chronic Eustachian tube problems. This typically manifests as frequent middle ear fluid, ear pressure, and ear infections. Adults with these issues often have tubes placed to alleviate their symptoms.

Why do young children have frequent ear infections?

Between the birth and the age of 6, the Eustachian tube is slow to mature. As a result, children develop middle ear fluid more readily than adults. Children are also exposed to frequent upper respiratory infections. Both of these factors cause an increased risk of developing an ear infection. Additional risk factors include exposure to large numbers of children (day care or pre-school) , exposure to tobacco smoke, and congenital abnormalities of the palate (cleft palate).

How do ear tubes work?

Ear tubes act as a ventilation device, preventing pressure build up behind the eardrum. In doing so, they prevent the build up of fluid, thus minimizing the chance of developing an ear infection. Tubes also serve as a drain, allowing fluid or infection that is present at the time of surgery to be drained from the ear.

How long do tubes last?

Ear tubes generally stay in the eardrum between 6 months and 3 years. The duration is based on the type of tube used and individual variation from patient to patient.

Can I swim if I have ear tubes?

Yes. For bathing and swimming on the surface of a swimming pool, no precautions are necessary. For older children and adults who may dive deeper than 2 feet under water, ear plugs are recommended.

Is anesthesia required for tube placement?

A brief general anesthesia is required for tube placement in children. Adults can have ear tubes placed in an office setting using topical anesthesia (numbing drops on the eardrum).

Who performs ear tube placement?

Ear, Nose, and Throat specialists are trained to perform ear tube placement for both children and adults.


Raleigh Capitol Ear, Nose, and Throat is the area's premiere physician-owned ENT practice with six convenient locations throughout Wake County. Our board-certified physicians have extensive experience in treating both common and complex cases to help adults and children alike. For more information or to schedule an appointment, contact us.