What Are Ear Tubes?

Posted on September 1, 2021

50% of Canadian children aged two to seven years have had at least one ear infection. But did you know that ear infections aren't just for kids? Adults can also develop ear infections.

There are two types of ear infections: otitis externa and otitis media. The former affects the ear canal and is also known as swimmer's ear.

Otitis media is a more severe type of ear infection affecting the middle ear. This type of infection can cause pain, fever, nausea, and vomiting. Hearing loss is also possible after a middle ear infection.

The good news is that ear tubes can help treat otitis media. Tubes in ears can reduce the risk of future infections, too.

Doctors also call ear tubes tympanostomy tubes. In people with ear infections, an otolaryngologist can insert these tiny tubes into a tiny surgical incision of the eardrum.

Patients can't see or feel ear tubes. But many people report feeling relief from ear pressure and pain after the surgery.

Who Qualifies for Ear Tubes?

Tubes in ears surgeries are medically known as myringotomies. Myringotomies are most common in children, especially children younger than five years old. But adults and teens also qualify for ear tube surgery.

Otolaryngologists are the types of doctors who order ear tube procedures. Typically, suffering from the following conditions make you a good candidate:

  • Recurring ear infections
  • An ear infection that doesn't respond to antibiotics
  • Chronic ear fluid in the middle ear with hearing loss
  • Retraction of the eardrum due to pressure changes (i.e., barotrauma)

Eustachian tube dysfunctions are often the cause of these symptoms. The Eustachian tube is a hollow cartilaginous bone that transports air from the middle ear into the nasal passage.

People with allergies, large adenoids (a patch of throat tissue that's part of the lymphatic system), and frequent middle ear infections often deal with Eustachian tube dysfunction. Smoking, contracting certain viruses, and being prone to colds can make symptoms even worse.

Dysfunction occurs when the Eustachian tube gets blocked. The air can't get out, which draws fluid into the ear cavity. Placing a tube for the ear allows the liquid to drain and air to flow normally.

How Many Ear Infections Before Ear Tubes Are Required?

Barotrauma is the most common reason an adult or older child might require a tube for an ear infection. But in children, recurring ear infections are more likely to lead to Eustachian tube dysfunction.

In order for a child to qualify for ear tubes, he or she must experience six ear infections in one year. Otolaryngologists also recommend ear tubes for children who suffer from four or more infections within a six-month period.

Even if infections aren't recurrent, a patient could qualify for ear tubes. This happens when the adult or child suffers from hearing loss due to chronic ear fluid accumulation.

A doctor will want to see three or more months of hearing loss before prescribing myringotomy.

How Long Do Ear Tubes Stay In?

Doctors make small incisions in the eardrum before inserting ear tubes. As this incision heals, it puts pressure on the tube, eventually causing it to fall out.

That's why some ear tubes aren't permanent. They usually fall out after six months to one year. But your ear tubes could stay in for longer or shorter than that, depending on the type your doctor prescribes for you.

Keep in mind that ear tubes falling out is a good sign. It shows that your ear has gone through the natural healing process. But if your ear tube hasn't fallen out after two years, call your otolaryngologist. Your doctor may need to remove the tube manually.

With that said, not all ear tubes are impermanent. Sometimes, a doctor may recommend longer-term ear tubes, which we'll talk about next.

What Are the Different Types of Ear Tubes?

There are two general types of ear tubes: long-term and short-term. Short-term ear tubes are like the ones we mentioned above. They stay in for six months to two years before falling out naturally.

Long-term ear tubes are different. That's because the otolaryngologist secures them in the eardrum with flanges. Flanges secure the ear tube in place, keeping the natural healing process from pushing them out.

Sometimes, long-term ear tubes do fall out on their own. More commonly, though, surgery is required to remove this type of ear tube.

What Are Ear Tubes Made From?

Medical equipment manufacturers tend to make ear tubes from plastic or metal. Of course, the material used for ear tubes is medical-grade. That means they're completely safe for placement in your ear.

What Kind of Maintenance Do Ear Tubes Require?

Ear tubes are tiny, and most patients report never feeling their presence. There's no pain when they fall out, either.

But that doesn't mean you should forget all about your ear tubes. You'll need to perform some ear tube maintenance to ensure you're getting the most out of your myringotomy.

Most importantly, always avoid getting water in your ears. If bacteria from that water gets into your tube and enters the inner ear, it could cause infection. Wear earplugs while swimming or bathing to avoid this complication.

Also, sneezing and blowing your nose could cause ear tubes to dislodge. To reduce the risk of this happening, try to sneeze with your mouth open and allow mucus to drain to your throat.

Finally, always look out for ear drainage. Thick, pus-filled drainage, especially, may be a sign of reinfection. If you think you're dealing with an ear infection after myringotomy, schedule an appointment with an otolaryngologist immediately.

browsing the Canada health care plan

Do the Canadian Health Care Programs Cover Ear Tubes?

Canadian healthcare plans provide coverage for medically necessary services. So, when a myringotomy is medically necessary, insurance will cover it. But when is ear tube surgery medically necessary?

Adults and children who meet these criteria qualify for myringotomy insurance coverage:

  • Six recurrent middle ear infections in one year or four infections in six months
  • Structurally damaged middle ears
  • Barotrauma
  • Autophony
  • Head, neck, or skull-related middle ear infections
  • Middle ear infections leading to meningitis, mastoiditis, or facial paralysis
  • Ear infections that haven't responded to two or more rounds of treatment

Doctors further prescribe myringotomies to children suffering from uni- or bi-lateral ear infections leading to hearing loss.

The infection must have lasted for three or more months, and the hearing loss must be 20 decibels or greater to qualify for Canadian healthcare coverage.

Additionally, ear tubes are medically necessary for middle ear infections in "at-risk" children. At-risk children are those whose infections have the likelihood to cause speech, language, or learning delays.

Ear tubes for adults, specifically, are also medically necessary when an infection leads to prolonged hearing loss or inner ear pressure. As with children, the infection must be ongoing for at least three months to qualify.

Of course, benefits differ by province and territory. Check your local health care program website to learn if your insurance covers myringotomies. Or visit this link to locate your ministry of health's website.

Do Private Canadian Health Care Plans Cover Ear Tubes?

Two-thirds of Canadians have private insurance. Private insurance offers benefits that aren't provided under your public health care program. These private policies typically offer services like:

  • Dental and vision care
  • Prescription drugs
  • Physiotherapy (rehabilitation services)
  • Stays in private hospitals
  • Cosmetic surgery

Ear tubes don't usually fall under the jurisdiction of private health care. That's because most provincial and territorial public health care programs cover myringotomy. But what if your provincial plan doesn't cover ear tubes?

The good news is that a private insurance plan will. An otolaryngologist will still have to deem ear tubes medically necessary for your condition.

As long as he or she does that and you've met your deductible, your private insurance will cover the surgery.

If your myringotomy is elective (i.e., not medically necessary), you must pay out of pocket. And a single ear tube insertion surgery can cost $400 to nearly $700.

Compare Canadian Health Plans on Insurdinary

Ear tubes are a treatment for Eustachian tube dysfunctions in adults and children. Chronic ear infections, barotrauma, and ear fluid build-up are common reasons people get ear tubes.

And the good news is that public and private insurance will cover your surgery. Your doctor only needs to prove that ear tubes are medically necessary to treat your condition.

Are you searching for an insurance plan to cover your or your child's ear tube surgery? Get the best health insurance quotes in Canada from Insurdinary right now!

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