A myringotomy is a procedure to create a hole in the ear drum to allow fluid that is trapped in the middle ear to drain out. The fluid may be blood, pus and/or water. In many cases, a small tube is inserted into the hole in the ear drum to help maintain drainage.
Reasons to Have a Myringotomy
A myringotomy may be done:
- To restore hearing loss caused by chronic fluid build-up and to prevent delayed speech development caused by hearing loss in children
- To place tympanostomy tubes — these tubes help to equalize pressure. It may also help prevent recurring ear infections and the accumulation of fluid behind the ear drum.
- To help treat an ear infection that is not responding to medical treatment
- To take sample fluid from the middle ear to examine in the lab for the presence of bacteria or other infections
After the procedure, pain and/or pressure in the ear due to fluid build-up should be alleviated. Hearing loss due to fluid build-up should improve as well.
Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:
- Chronic scarring
- Failure of the myringotomy incision in the ear drum to heal as expected, which may result in frequent drainage
- Hearing loss
- Injury to ear structures other than the ear drum
- Need for repeat surgery
About the Myringotomy Procedure
Your doctor will likely do the following:
- Blood tests
- Hearing test
- Tympanogram — a test that measures how well the ear drum responds to changes in pressure
- Examine the external ear and the ear drum with an instrument called an otoscope
Prepare for Your Myringotomy
- Arrange for a ride to and from the procedure.
- Do not eat or drink anything for at least eight hours before the procedure.
Talk to your doctor about your medications. You may be asked to stop taking some medications up to one week before the procedure, like:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs)
- Blood thinners
About the Procedure
A small microscope is placed in position to give the doctor a better view. A tiny incision will be made in the eardrum. Fluid from the middle ear will then be drained. In most cases, a small tube will be inserted and left in place. This will allow the drainage to continue.
No stitches will be used to close the incision. The incision will heal itself. The procedure is often done on both ears. Some doctors may use a laser beam to make the opening in the ear drum.
The surgery will last about 15–20 minutes.
Does a Myringotomy Hurt?
Anesthesia prevents pain during surgery. You may have minor pain after surgery. Your doctor can give you pain medication or recommend a nonprescription pain reliever to manage this discomfort. Also, lidocaine ear drops may be given to decrease pain.
If ear tubes are inserted, you may feel popping, pulsation, clicking, or minor pain when burping, chewing, or yawning until the ear heals around the tubes.
After the Procedure
After the procedure, be sure to follow your doctor's instructions, which may include:
- If cotton was placed in the ear canal to absorb postsurgical drainage, change it regularly. (Drainage should end or reduce to a minimal amount within 2-3 days.)
- If you are given ear drops, use as directed. You will usually put three drops in each ear, three times a day for three days after surgery.
- If water gets in the ear after surgery, monitor for drainage. If drainage begins, use ear drops if directed by your doctor, and if drainage continues for three days (or as directed), call your doctor.
- Take any medications as prescribed by your doctor.
- Use ear plugs as prescribed by your doctor while swimming or bathing, and avoid underwater swimming and diving unless instructed otherwise.
- Do not clean your ear after surgery or place anything other than ear drops, cotton or ear plugs into the ear, unless instructed otherwise by your doctor.
- Ask your doctor about when it is safe to shower, bathe or soak in water.
Complete healing without complications should occur within four weeks. If ear tubes were inserted, they should fall out within 6-12 months. In some cases, surgery to remove the ear tubes may be necessary. Most ear drums heal normally after tubes come out, but visible scarring is not unusual.
When to Call
After arriving home, contact your doctor if any of the following occurs:
- Signs of infection, including fever and chills
- Redness, swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding or discharge from the ear
- Pain that you cannot control with the medications you have been given
- Drainage from ear continues for more than four days after surgery
- Decreased hearing
- Cough, shortness of breath, chest pain or severe nausea or vomiting
- Any other new concerns
If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.