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Myringotomy is a surgical procedure of the eardrum or tympanic membrane. The procedure is performed by making a small incision with a myringotomy knife through the layers of tympanic membrane (see the image below). This surgical procedure permits direct access to the middle ear space and allows the release of middle-ear fluid, which is the end product of otitis media with effusion (OME), whether acute or chronic. OME is classified as serous, mucoid, or purulent.

The fluid is suctioned from the middle ear through the incision and, if indicated, sent for bacterial or viral cultures. Currently, bilateral myringotomy is often used in conjunction with placement of middle-ear ventilation tubes, which permits the incised drum to remain open and allows better drainage of middle-ear fluid. [1] This approach facilitates instillation of antibiotic otitic drops, and ultimately results in faster resolution of the OME. [2]

OME may spontaneously occur as a result of inadequate ventilation of the middle-ear space related to poor eustachian tube function or a persistent inflammatory response to acute otitis media (AOM). Additional contributors to the development of OME include the immaturity both of the infant or young child’s immune system and of the anatomy of the eustachian tube.

The eustachian tube is the communication between the middle ear and the nasopharynx. Its function is to equalize pressure across the tympanic membrane. Contraction of the tensor veli palatini and the salpingopharyngeus outside of the tympanic cavity (middle ear) dilate and open the auditory tube.

In children, the eustachian tube is shorter, more horizontally oriented, and less functionally mature, and these differences can predispose children to OME. Inflammation of the mucosa of the eustachian tube orifice (from conditions such as upper respiratory infection [URI] or allergy) and improper functioning of the eustachian tube musculature lead to negative middle-ear pressure. Thus, when the eustachian tube opens, bacteria and viruses from the nasopharynx are drawn into the middle-ear space and generate an inflammatory response.

OME has a strong correlation with URI. Children with craniofacial abnormalities that affect eustachian tube function (eg, Down syndrome and cleft palate) are at increased risk for otitis media. Immune deficiency should be suspected in children with OME that occurs in association with recurrent sinusitis, bronchitis, or gastrointestinal (GI) abnormalities.

Other predisposing conditions include allergy, adenoid hypertrophy, ciliary dysfunction, and gastroesophageal reflux. OME may be seen in patients with prolonged nasal intubation or nasogastric tubes. [2]

The tympanic membrane is an oval, thin, semi-transparent membrane that separates the external and middle ear (tympanic cavity). The tympanic membrane is divided into 2 parts: the pars flaccida and the pars tensa. The manubrium of the malleus is firmly attached to the medial tympanic membrane; where the manubrium draws the tympanic membrane medially, a concavity is formed. The apex of this concavity is called the umbo. The area of the tympanic membrane superior to the umbo is termed the pars flaccida; the remainder of the tympanic membrane is the pars tensa (see the image below).

The eustachian tube is the communication between the middle ear and the nasopharynx. Its function is to equalize pressure across the tympanic membrane. Contraction of the tensor veli palatini and the salpingopharyngeus outside of the tympanic cavity (middle ear) dilate and open the auditory tube. The image below depicts middle ear anatomy.

For more information about the relevant anatomy, see Ear Anatomy.

Myringotomy may be indicated in cases of AOM, recurrent AOM with effusion (RAOME), and chronic otitis media with effusion (COME). Patients with AOM that is refractory to medical therapy or associated with signs of toxicity require myringotomy with or without middle-ear culture. Children with recurrent acute episodes of otitis media (usually understood as more than 4-5 infections in 6 months) benefit from myringotomy. The most common indication is for children with COME of more than 3 months’ duration.

Because of the rapid healing properties of the tympanic membrane, myringotomy with aspiration of effusion has a shorter-lived benefit than myringotomy performed in conjunction with ear tube placement. Studies have advocated myringotomy with tube insertion over myringotomy alone to decreased the time of effusion and improve hearing. [3]

A child who displays speech and language delay secondary to otitis should undergo prompt myringotomy with or without ear tubes. Additionally, certain subsets of children are more likely to need prompt surgical intervention (ie, myringotomy), including the following:

Children with permanent hearing loss independent of OME

Children with autism-spectrum disorder and other pervasive developmental disorders

Children with syndromes (eg, Down syndrome) or craniofacial disorders that result in eustachian tube dysfunction

Children who are blind or have uncorrectable visual impairment

Children who have cleft palate with or without cleft lip [4]

Alberti PW. Myringotomy and ventilating tubes in the 19th century. Laryngoscope. 1974 May. 84(5):805-15. [Medline].

Anil Lalwani. Current diagnosis & treatment in otolaryngology–head & neck surgery. 3rd. New York: Lange Medical Books/McGraw-Hill; 2004.

Mandel EM, Rockette HE, Bluestone CD, Paradise JL, Nozza RJ. Efficacy of myringotomy with and without tympanostomy tubes for chronic otitis media with effusion. Pediatr Infect Dis J. 1992 Apr. 11(4):270-7. [Medline].

Kenna MA. Otitis Media with Effusion. Bailey BJ JJ, Newlands SD. Head & Neck Surgery – Otolaryngology. 4th. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2006.

Isaacson G. Six Sigma tympanostomy tube insertion: achieving the highest safety levels during residency training. Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2008 Sep. 139(3):353-7. [Medline].

Mair EA, Moss JR, Dohar JE, Antonelli PJ, Bear M, LeBel C. Randomized Clinical Trial of a Sustained-Exposure Ciprofloxacin for Intratympanic Injection During Tympanostomy Tube Surgery. Ann Otol Rhinol Laryngol. 2015 Aug 20. [Medline].

Brian Kip Reilly, MD Assistant Professor of Otolaryngology and Pediatrics, Department of Otolaryngology, Children’s National Medical Center, George Washington University School of Medicine

Brian Kip Reilly, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Arlen D Meyers, MD, MBA Professor of Otolaryngology, Dentistry, and Engineering, University of Colorado School of Medicine

Arlen D Meyers, MD, MBA is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, American Head and Neck Society

Disclosure: Serve(d) as a director, officer, partner, employee, advisor, consultant or trustee for: Cerescan;RxRevu;Cliexa;Preacute Population Health Management;The Physicians Edge<br/>Received income in an amount equal to or greater than $250 from: The Physicians Edge, Cliexa<br/> Received stock from RxRevu; Received ownership interest from Cerescan for consulting; for: Rxblockchain;Bridge Health.

Acknowledgments Medscape Reference thanks Hamid R Djalilian, MD, Associate Professor of Otolaryngology, Director of Neurotology and Skull Base Surgery, University of California Irvine Medical Center, for assistance with the video contribution to this article.


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