Ear surgery is the treatment of diseases, injuries, or deformations of the ear by operation with instruments.
Ear surgery is performed to correct certain types of hearing loss, and to treat diseases of, injuries to, or deformities of the ear's auditory tube, middle ear, inner ear, and auditory and vestibular systems. Ear surgery is commonly performed to treat conductive hearing loss, persistent ear infections, unhealed perforated eardrums, congenital ear defects, and tumors.
Ear surgery is performed on children and adults. In some cases, surgery is the only treatment; in others, it is used only when more conservative medical treatment fails.
The precautions vary, depending on the type of ear surgery under consideration. For example, stapedectomy (removal of parts of the middle ear and insertion of prosthesis parts) should not be performed on people with external or middle ear infection or inner ear disease. For people with complete hearing loss in the other ear, it should be performed cautiously. Microsurgery for the removal of a cholesteatoma (a cyst-like mass of cells in the middle ear) should not be performed on patients who are extremely ill or have other medical conditions. Tympanoplasty (any surgical procedure on the eardrum or middle ear) should not be performed on patients with chronic sinus or nasal problems or with medical problems such as poorly controlled diabetes and heart disease. Surgery for congenital microtia and atresia (abscense of normal bodily openings, such as the outer ear canal) should not be performed if the middle ear space is totally or almost totally absent.
Most ear surgery is microsurgery, performed with an operating microscope to enable the surgeon to view the very small structures of the ear. The use of minimally invasive laser surgery for middle ear procedures is growing. Laser surgery reduces the amount of trauma due to vibration, enhances coagulation, and enables surgeons to access hard to reach places in the middle ear. Laser surgery can be performed in an office operating suite. Types of ear surgery include stapedectomy, tympanoplasty, myringotomy and ear tube surgery, ear surgery to repair a perforated eardrum, cochlear implants, and tumor removal.
To restore hearing loss, which is usually due to otosclerosis, stapedectomy is performed. Stapedectomy is the removal of all or part of the stapes, one of the bones in the middle ear, and replacement with a tiny prosthesis. An incision is made in the middle ear, the small bones are identified, and the stapes is removed. The stainless steel wire and cellulose sponge prosthesis is inserted, blood and fluid are drained, and the wound is closed. Performed in a hospital or outpatient surgical facility under local or general anesthetic, full recovery takes about three weeks but hearing should improve immediately.
Tympanoplasty is performed to reconstruct the eardrum after partial or total conductive hearing loss, usually caused by chronic middle ear infections, or perforations that do not heal. This is usually a same day surgery, performed under either local or general anesthesia. After making an incision in the ear to view the perforation, the ear drum is elevated away from the ear canal and lifted forward. If the bones of hearing (ossicular chain) are functioning, tissue is taken from the ear and grafted to the eardrum to close the perforation. A thin sheet of silastic and Gelfoam hold the graft in place. The ear is stitched together, and a sterile patch is placed on the outside of the ear canal. Tympanoplasty is successful in over 90% of all cases. The need for ossicular reconstruction (reconstruction of tiny bones of the middle ear) is sometimes known before surgery and even when identified during surgery, can usually be done while reconstructing the eardrum. If the gap between the anvil bone and the stapes is small, a small piece of bone or cartilage from the patient can be inserted; if is is large, the incus bone is removed, modelled into a prosthesis, and reinserted between the stapes and the malleus. Reconstruction could also be achieved by inserting a strut made from artificial bone. For tympanoplasty with ossicular reconstruction, the patient usually stays in the hospital overnight. The recovery period is about four weeks.
Myringotomy and ear tube surgery
Myringotomy and ear tube surgery is performed to drain ear fluid and prevent ear infections when antibiotics don't work or when ear infections are chronic. The process normalizes pressure in the middle ear and decreases fluid accumulation. It is most commonly performed on infants and children, in whom ear infections are most frequent, and may be done on one or both ears. The surgeon makes a small hole in the ear drum, then uses suction to remove fluid. A small ear tube of metal or plastic is inserted into the ear drum to allow continual drainage. The tube prevents infections as long as it stays in place, which varies from six months to three years. When the tube falls out, the hole grows over. As many of 25% of children under the age of two who need ear tubes may need them again. Myringotomy and ear tube surgery is performed in a hospital, using a general anesthetic for most children and a local anesthetic for older children or adults. No anesthetic may be used for infants. The procedure usually takes about two hours. Most patients can go home the same day; children under three years of age and those with chronic diseases usually stay overnight.
Ear surgery for a perforated eardrum
Ear surgery for a perforated eardrum is only performed in rare cases where it does not heal on its own. In most cases, this is performed in a surgeon's office using a topical anesthetic. The surgeon scratches the undersurface of the eardrum, stimulating the skin to heal and the eardrum to close. A thin patch placed on the eardrum's outer surface allows the skin under the eardrum to heal.
Cochlear implants stimulate nerve ends within the inner ear, enabling deaf children to hear. The device has a microphone that remains outside the ear, a processor that selects and codes speech sounds, and a receiver/stimulator to convert the coded sounds to electric signals that stimulate the hearing nerve and are recognized by the brain as sound. During surgery, an incision is made behind and slightly above the ear. A circular hole is drilled in the bone to receive the device's internal coil. The mastoid bone leading to the middle ear is opened to receive the electrodes. The internal coil is inserted and secured, followed by the electrodes. The wound is stitched up and when it heals, an external unit comprised of a stimulator with a microphone is worn behind the ear. Performed in a hospital under general anesthesia, the operation takes about two hours and usually requires a hospital stay overnight. The patient can resume normal activities in two to three weeks.
Ear surgery for tumors
Some ear tumors can be very serious and should be removed surgically. For a tumor on the skin of the ear canal, the skin is removed surgically, the bone beneath it is drilled away and a skin graft is placed in the ear canal. If the tumor is near the eardrum, the skin of the ear canal and the eardrum are removed along with the bone surrounding the ear canal. A skin graft is placed on the bare bone. For basal cell cancers and low grade glandular malignancies, surgical resection of the ear canal is adequate. Squamous cell carcinoma, a serious form of cancer, of the external ear canal requires radical surgery, followed by radiation therapy. Cholesteatoma, a benign tumor caused by an infection in a perforated eardrum that did not heal properly and can destroy the bones of hearing, is removed with microsurgery. Mastoidectomy is performed for mastoiditis, an inflammation of the middle ear, if medical therapy does not work. Petrous apicectomy is performed to drain the petrous apicitis, the bone between the middle ear and the clivis.
Ear surgery for congenital ear defects
Congenital atresia, the absence of the external ear canal, and congenital microtia, abnormal growth of the external ear, often occur together, although atresia can occur without microtia. Surgery to reconstruct the ear usually takes place when the child is four or five years old and may require several operations. A facial plastic surgeon and an ear surgeon work together, repairing the microtia first and then the atresia. During surgery, a bony opening is created over the bones of hearing. The surfaces of the bony ear canal are then relined with a skin graft from the thigh or abdomen. Tissue from behind the eardrum is used to create a new eardrum. In many cases, the middle ear will also need to be reconstructed. Surgery is performed in a hospital under general anesthesia.
Other types of ear surgery
Surgery may also be appropriate to remove multiple bony overgrowths of the ear canal or in rare cases of compromised auditory tube function, to narrow the tube.
The preparation depends upon the type of ear surgery performed. For many procedures, blood and urine studies and hearing tests are conducted.
The type of aftercare depends upon the type of surgery performed. In most cases, the ear(s) should be kept dry and warm. Non-prescription drugs such as acetaminophen can be used for pain.
The type of risk depends on the type of surgery performed. Total hearing loss is rare.
Auditory — Relating to the sense of the organs of hearing.
Cholesteatoma — A cystic mass of cells in the middle ear, occurring as a congential defect or as a serious complication of a disease or traumtic condition of the ear.
Otologic — Relating to the study, diagnosis, and treatment of diseases of the ear and related structures.
American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, Inc. One Prince St., Alexandria VA 22314-3357. (703) 836-4444. http://www.entnet.org.
American Hearing Research Foundation. 55 E. Washington St., Suite 2022, Chicago, IL 60602. (312) 726-9670. 〈http://www.american-hearing.org/〉.
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. 10801 Rockville Pike, Rockville, MD 20852. (800) 638-8255. http://www.asha.org.
Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.