Tympanocentesis (tim-pan-oh-sen-TEE-sis) refers to the minor surgical procedure in which a small incision is made in the eardrum to allow pus to drain from the middle ear cavity into the ear canal. The ability of the eardrum to heal without complication or major scarring, as well as the simplicity of the procedure, made this little operation attractive in the days before antibiotics for ear infections. This procedure cured the infection with one stroke, and allowed the physician to obtain a bacterial culture of the pus if necessary to identify the germ involved.

It is done under a local topical anesthetic which is instilled into the sterilized ear canal. Sometimes a mild oral sedative is given to the child, but it is not always necessary. The procedure takes but a few seconds, and is either painless or nearly so.

This practice, which fell by the wayside to such a degree that very few pediatricians have ever done the procedure, may be coming back into use again because of the dramatic rise in antibiotic resistance of common middle ear disease bacteria.

Complications in the hands of ordinary practitioners are said to be practically non-existent.

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