Man in pain holding his ear.

Anyone could experience fluid in the ear. This symptom is the result of some type of dysfunction of the eustachian tube. The tube extends from the middle ear to the upper throat behind the nose. The symptoms of fluid in the ear can range from minor discomfort to very severe pain. 

What can be done about fluid in the ear?

Treatment for fluid in the ear will depend on the cause and severity of the condition. In most cases, the fluid will drain on its own within a few weeks. If it does not, treatment may include further observation, a hearing test, or antibiotics. If there is significant hearing loss, or if fluid is still present after four to six months, surgical placement of ear tubes may be required. If large adenoids are blocking the eustachian tube, they may need to be removed. 

Why choose Texas ENT Specialists?

You are in good hands with Texas ENT Specialists (TENTS). With more than 30 board-certified otolaryngologists across all areas of ear, nose, and throat care, we provide world-class, comprehensive medical and surgical care. We can guarantee personalized, compassionate treatment and a positive patient journey. 

How are ear tubes placed?

  • Myringotomy (ear tube surgery) is performed on children under general anesthesia. For adults, it can also be done with local anesthesia. 
  • The surgeon makes a small incision in the eardrum with a scalpel or laser and drains or suctions out the fluid trapped in the middle ear. 
  • Next, the surgeon will carefully place a small tube through the incision in the eardrum to allow fluid to drain from the ear.
  • The eardrum will typically close around the tube, holding it in place, preventing it from falling out. In most cases, the tubes fall out in nine to eighteen months. 

Is recovery difficult after ear tube surgery?

Recovery after ear tube surgery only takes a few days. You can expect some drainage and minor pain, which should subside within three to four days after surgery. The doctor will prescribe antibiotic ear drops to help prevent infection. There may also be restrictions on bathing and swimming during healing. 

FAQ about fluid in the ear

What are the symptoms of fluid in the ear?

Small children with fluid in the ear may display no symptoms. For adults, symptoms may be subtle or debilitating. They may include:

  • Pain in the ear
  • Feeling that the ears are “plugged up”
  • Feeling of fullness in the ears
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • Hearing loss
  • Loss of balance
  • Vertigo
  • Increasing ear pain with altitude changes
  • Inability to “pop” the ears

What causes fluid in the ear?

Approximately 90 out of 100 children will have fluid in their ears at some point before age five or six. For both children and adults, common causes of fluid in the ear include:

  • Allergies
  • Congestion from colds or viruses
  • Exposure to cigarette smoke or other chemical irritants
  • Adenoids, tonsils, enlarged sinus tissue, nasal polyps, or other growths blocking the eustachian tube
  • Rapid changes in air pressure that occur while flying in an airplane or scuba diving

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