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What is a Myringotomy?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A myringotomy is an outpatient surgical procedure in which a very small slit is made in the ear drum so that a buildup of fluid can be drained. It is most commonly seen in the treatment of chronic ear inflammations and infections, and it is usually combined with the use of antibiotics to resolve the infection. This procedure does not take very long, and the healing rate is usually quite rapid. The significant increase in patient comfort after a myringotomy is often greatly appreciated.

Classically, when the ear drum is opened in a myringotomy, a small tube is fitted into the incision to promote drainage. This ensures that after the ear drum heals, fluid will not build up again and cause additional problems. Eventually, the healing ear drum will push the tubes out, although they can also be removed manually by a surgeon. The patient is also given antibiotics to promote healing of the ear drum and to resolve the underlying infection which led to a need for the myringotomy. Doctors try to avoid repeating the procedure, as repeat surgeries can lead to hardening of the ear drum.

The biggest risk of a myringotomy procedure is hearing loss or damage to the hearing, typically caused by perforation of the ear drum. It is also possible to develop a benign tumor called a cholesteatoma in the ear, which will require surgery. Sometimes the myringotomy tubes migrate inwards during the healing process, necessitating a surgery to remove the tubes. These complications are generally rare.

For adults, a myringotomy surgery can be performed without the use of an anesthetic. The patient will need to hold still, and some pressure and discomfort may be experienced. Children are often anesthetized, especially if they are young, as uncooperative patients can complicate the procedure considerably. If anesthesia is used, there is an increased risk of surgical complications related to the anesthesia, but the development of very safe and effective anesthesia techniques has significantly reduced the incidence of such complications.

A doctor will recommend an ear tube surgery for patients who experience chronic ear infections which result in a repeated buildup of fluid behind the ear drum. The concern is that such ear infections could lead to infections in other regions of the body, or to a loss of hearing, both of which are undesirable. A myringotomy will also relieve the pain and discomfort associated with ear infections.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon282629 — On Jul 30, 2012

Water in your ear is called otitis externa or swimmer's ear. A myringotomy would generally not be helpful I don't think. You need prescription ear drops to heal the infection that is in your outer ear canal.

By kylee07drg — On Jun 30, 2011

@StarJo - I had a myringotomy, and the fluid buildup was caused by dysfunction of my eustachian tube. This tube connects the middle ear to the back of the throat and lets air into the middle ear.

When you feel pressure inside your ears in an elevator or on an airplane, that is because your eustachian tube isn’t allowing air into the middle ear. Sometimes, allergies and sinus infections cause congestion, and that blocks the tube from opening all the way.

Over time, a malfunctioning or blocked eustachian tube keeps the middle ear from getting any fresh air, and the air that’s already present gets absorbed by the body and replaced with a fluid. This fluid can impair your hearing and cause bacteria to grow, leading to an infection.

So, to answer your question, trapped water does not require a myringotomy. However, you should see a doctor about that infection, because it could lead to something more severe.

By StarJo — On Jun 29, 2011

I've been experiencing pain in my ears brought on by trapped swimming pool water. I'm pretty sure I have an ear infection because of it. I wonder if this type of fluid buildup is the kind that needs to be fixed by a myringotomy.

I hope I don't need surgery for it, but if I might, I guess I should hurry up about visiting my ear, nose, and throat doctor. Does anyone know what causes the fluid buildup that this surgery is meant to relieve?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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