Ventilating tubes are generally prescribed for children in whom more conservative methods to eliminate middle ear fluid (serous otitis media) and restore normal hearing have failed, or in whom otitis media is inordinately recurrent. Current guidelines are variable but all generally suggest several months of antibiotic trials before tube insertion unless symptoms of a particularly bad infection are not clearing with aggressive antibiotic treatment.

The rationale for tube insertion is to restore normal hearing for speech and language development. Studies have suggested that children with early hearing impairment can suffer permanent reductions in abilities in these areas.

The tube insertion is usually done under brief general anesthesia. The surgeon makes a tiny hole in the eardrum, sucks out the old sticky "glue ear" fluid that fills the middle ear cavity, and pops a tiny plastic tube into the slit. It usually looks like a little grommet; some are longer tubes; and a few surgeons prefer grommets made of metal. It just takes a couple of minutes from start to finish.

Some doctors try prophylactic antibiotics - usually a teaspoon of amoxicillin (the pink bubble gum stuff) at bedtime only for a few months to try and avoid tubes. Others worry about fostering resistant germs by doing that. Trust your doctor.