When sound waves reach the ear, they are gathered by the funnel-shaped outer ear and channeled into the middle ear. At the opening to the middle ear, sound waves hit the tympanic membrane, or eardrum. The resultant vibrations then travel through the middle ear and the fluid-filled inner ear where they are converted to signals that are sent to the brain.
Occasionally, the middle ear can become clogged and infected. Children are especially susceptible to this condition because they have shorter, more narrow eustachian tubes, the tube which allows the middle ear to drain. As fluid and pressure build within the ear, the child may experience pain and hearing impairment. When the infections become long-lasting or recur repeatedly it may be necessary for the child to have a tympanostomy.
In this procedure, a small incision is made in the tympanic membrane and the built-up fluid is drained out. A small tube is then inserted into the incision to allow continuous drainage over a period of a few months. Eventually, the incision begins to heal and the tubes fall out naturally as the hole in the eardrum closes.
There are several potential complications associated with this procedure that should be discussed with a doctor prior to surgery.