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Tympanostomy tubes for otitis media: quality-of-life improvement for children and parents.


We measured quality of life issues for both children and their parents on the premise that parental quality of life should be an aspect of cost-effectiveness in otitis media treatment. The patients were less than 18 years of age and had had myringotomy with tube insertion at the head and neck surgery department of a large health maintenance organization. Quality of life for patients, parents, and caregivers was evaluated by telephone survey of parents or caregivers and by retrospective chart review of the number of pre- and postoperative healthcare visits and antibiotic usage. Chart review showed a significant postoperative reduction in the number of clinic visits and in use of antibiotic drugs after insertion of tympanostomy tubes. Improved postoperative hearing was noted, and tympanostomy tube insertion was shown to be safe. The chart-review cost analysis showed that tympanostomy tube insertion is a cost-effective treatment for otitis media in children, and the telephone survey results showed that it improves quality of life for children and their parents or other caregivers.


Otitis media is the most common reason for children less than 15 years old to visit a pediatrician. The socioeconomic costs have been estimated at more than $1.0 billion annually in the United States. (1) The use of tympanostomy tubes has effectively reduced overall frequency, duration, and severity of otitis media and has corrected conductive hearing loss secondary to otitis media, (2-6) but its cost-effectiveness has not been determined. Quality of life of these patients and their parents or caregivers must be considered in the evaluation.

Surveys assessing quality of life have been proposed, (7-9) Facione's survey showed fewer visits and less antibiotic use after tubes were inserted, and he concluded that although children's quality of life improved after insertion of tympanostomy tubes, a more accurate count of visits and antibiotic usage is needed to determine the cost-effectiveness of this treatment. (8)

To determine quality-of-life changes both for affected children and their parents or other caregivers after insertion of tympanostomy tubes, we conducted a retrospective chart review and a telephone survey.

Patients and methods

Using a hospital-procedure-coding database, we identified 379 Kaiser Foundation Health Plan members younger than 18 years old who had had myringotomy with tube insertion at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Oakland, Calif. (KPMC-O) between 1988 and 1994. We collected data from 336 patient charts available for review. Of these 336 patients, we excluded 63 who either did not have a minimum of 1-year of preprocedural visits or postprocedural follow-up at KPMC-O, those who had had prior ear surgery, and those who had had myringotomy with tube insertion as part of a more extensive otologic procedure. All procedures were done by the head and neck surgery (HNS) department residents or staff.

For the 1-year periods before and after tympanostomy tube insertion, we recorded the number of clinic visits for ear-related problems, the number of courses of oral and topical antibiotics prescribed, and hearing loss as indicated by audiograms. A visit was counted if the presenting complaint was ear-related, if the visit was scheduled for otitis follow-up, or if the diagnosis of otitis media was documented as a major problem prompting the visit. We did not count well-child checkups with otitis noted incidentally. Preoperative visits were categorized as non-HNS visits (i.e., visits to the primary pediatrician, urgent care clinic, or emergency department) or HNS visits. Postoperative visits were divided into non-HNS visits, HNS visits, and routine HNS visits (postoperative visits scheduled at regular intervals). Any preoperative, intraoperative, or postoperative complication was recorded. Additional information entered into our database included patient age, sex, indication for tympanostomy tube insertion, and use of prophylactic antibiotics.

By telephone, we presented nine questions (table 1) to a parent or other primary caregiver of all patients less than 18 years of age who had had myringotomy with tube insertion, as identified by the hospital's database. Results were tabulated and analyzed.

We evaluated cost-effectiveness by using our chart-review results and the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research (AHCPR) estimate of $406 per patient-episode of medically managed otitis media (including costs of physician office visits and prescription medications, and parental time off work) and $2,174 per patient for myringotomy and insertion of tympanostomy tubes (including physician office visits, parental time off work, and surgical fees.)


Chart review. For 273 patients (180 boys, 93 girls) myringotomy with tube insertion was performed for serous (165 patients), recurrent (52 patients), and chronic (56 patients) otitis.

Patients had a mean total of 10.6 visits in the 1-year study period before tympanostomy tube insertion. The mean number of visits for ear-related problems in the year after myringotomy and tube insertion was 2.8; that is, 7.8 visits fewer than before surgery (p < 0.001) (table 2). Most visits were to providers outside the HNS department. Patients had a mean of 8.4 preoperative non-HNS visits and a mean of 2.2 preoperative HNS visits. In the postmyringotomy year, patients had a mean of 2.4 non-HNS visits, a mean of 0.4 HNS visits, and a mean of 2.5 routine HNS follow-up visits. Although the male-to-female ratio of patients receiving myringotomy and tube insertion was 2:1, the two groups showed no significant difference between the mean number of visits before and alter surgery.

Patients received a mean of 3.9 more prescriptions for antibiotic drugs in the year before surgery than in the year after (p < 0.001) (table 2). This variable also showed no significant difference between boys and girls.

The 114 patients (42%) who had received prophylactic antibiotic therapy before surgery had a mean of 6.3 more preoperative and 1.2 more postoperative visits than those who had received no prophylactic antibiotics (p < 0.001) (table 3). Patients who received prophylactic antibiotics also had a mean of 4.2 more prescriptions for antibiotics preoperatively (p < 0.001) than patients who did not receive prophylactic antibiotics. The postoperative difference (0.5 prescriptions) was not significant.

Audiograms were done preoperatively for 193 (71%) of the patients and postoperatively for 117 (43%) of the patients; 91 (33 %) of the patients received both preoperative and postoperative audiograms. Of the 193 patients who received preoperative audiograms, 165 (85%) showed hearing loss. Of the 91 patients who had both preoperative and postoperative audiograms, 78 (86%) had hearing improvement after the surgery.

Preoperative complications secondary to otitis media included speech delay attributed to hearing deficits (9 patients); multiple adverse reactions to antibiotic drugs (3 patients); febrile seizure (2 patients); and facial paralysis, sensorineural hearing loss, admission for dehydration, learning disability, meningitis, and admission for mastoiditis (1 patient each).

Seven patients had intraoperative complications with no deaths. There were three cases of laryngospasm and one case each of bronchospasm, upper airway edema, and misplaced tube in the middle ear. One procedure was aborted when cholesteatoma was encountered.

Among 135 patients for whom 165 postoperative complications were documented (table 4), 28 patients (21%) bad more than 1 complication. The most common complications were persistent tympanostomy tubes requiring a second procedure for removal, and repeat myringotomy with tube insertion (table 4).

Telephone survey. For 202 of the 379 patients (53%) identified in the hospital database, a parent or caregiver was contacted in the telephone survey. Of those contacted, 200 participated in the survey, resulting in a response rate of 53%. Thirty-six respondents could not estimate the number of days off work or school prompted by the child's ear infection, either before or after insertion of tympanostomy tubes.

Most respondents answered that the child's ear problems (93 %) and overall quality of life (90%) were better after tympanostomy tube insertion (table 5), and most stated that the child benefited from (96%) and that they would recommend (93%) the procedure (table 5). Ninety-one percent of respondents said that their own quality of life, too, had improved (table 5).

More than two thirds of respondents said that caring for their child with an ear infection was a great burden, and 5% denied having any burden; 90% of respondents stated that their burden had decreased after tympanostomy tube insertion (table 6).

Respondents estimated that the child's ear infections prompted a mean of 14.5 days off work or school before and a mean of 2.4 days off work or school after the myringotomy. This difference of 12.1 days was significant (p < 0.001).


Cost-effectiveness is important in today's healthcare environment. Tympanostomy tubes are effective for treating otitis media, but their cost-effectiveness has not been determined.

Based on a decrease in number of office visits and antibiotic usage, as well as the fact that healthy children do not visit a medical care provider, Facione concluded that tympanostomy tubes improve the quality of life for children with otitis media. (8) His results are supported by our chart review, which showed antibiotic usage and numbers of ear-related preoperative and postoperative visits similar to those reported by Facione.

Assuming that an episode of otitis media results in two visits--i.e., the initial visit and the follow-up visit--our mean figure of 10.6 total visits in the preoperative year translates into 5.3 patient-episodes of otitis media annually. At an estimated $406 per patient-episode to treat medically, the yearly cost would be $2,152 per child. The estimated cost of myringotomy tubes is $2,174 per patient. Adding the cost of the 2.8 postoperative ear-infection-related visits (i.e., 1.4 patient-episodes of otitis media) results in a yearly cost of $2,742 per child. Managing otitis media with tympanostomy tubes thus costs $590 more than medical therapy alone in the first year after surgery. For the estimated 400,000 tympanostomy tube insertions done each year, $236 million would thus be saved if medical therapy were used instead.

Looking at the following year, if there continued to be only 1.4 patient-episodes of otitis media with tympanostomy tubes in place, the cost for that year would be $568 dollars per child with tubes. For that year, there would be a $1,584 savings for a child with tubes, assuming that a child without tubes would continue to have a mean of 5.3 patient-episodes of otitis media per year at a cost of $2,152. For 400,000 myringotomy patients annually, about $634 million is thus saved during the second year after tympanostomy tube insertion, showing the procedure to be more cost-effective than medical therapy. (This calculation did not consider that some tubes would have extruded during the year and that some children would have "outgrown" their ear problems.)

To further reduce the cost, we have instituted a telephone follow-up appointment system that replaces the routine postoperative office visit with a scheduled telephone call from a physician or a trained nurse at 4 to 10 days alter surgery and every 6 months thereafter. Parents or other caregivers can choose a convenient time and location to receive the call. Preliminary surveys have indicated high parental satisfaction with these telephone visits, which are supplemented by a pediatrician's assessment of tube status at routine well-child visits. A more extensive survey is under way to further evaluate these telephone visits.

Rosenfeld et al (7) found in their quality-of-life survey that parental concern is important. Most of our telephone survey respondents reported feeling greatly burdened in caring for the child with otitis media. Ninety percent of parents and other caregivers reported that their burden was decreased after tympanostomy tube insertion and that their overall quality of life had improved. Part of this improvement can be attributed to the dramatic decrease from an estimated 14.5 days off work or school required before tube placement to only 2.4 days off required after their insertion. Parents and other caregivers expressed great satisfaction with tympanostomy tube insertion, and most would recommend the procedure. Our results also indicated that from the parents' or other caregivers' viewpoint, the child's ear problems and overall quality of life improved alter tympanostomy tube placement.

In our chart review, we found only 9 cases in which a physician or a speech pathologist documented in the chart that a speech problem was a direct result of hearing impairment secondary to otitis media. The AHCPR stated that the effects of otitis media on speech and language development have been difficult to assess because of ethical problems in designing randomized, prospective studies and because no consistent instrument exists for measuring speech and language development. (1) Similarly, the long-term effects of otitis media on speech and language development after treatment are as yet undetermined and must be defined for more accurate determination of cost-effectiveness. If untreated otitis media can lead to permanent deficits in speech and language development, then the socioeconomic impact on society will be great.

Our chart review supported the safety of tympanostomy tubes. Even though there appeared to be a relatively high complication rate, the complications themselves were relatively minor in nature and often could be addressed with clinic procedures. We perform many of our persistent tube removal and myringoplasty procedures for smaller perforations in the clinic with patients under local anesthesia.

More than 40% of the patients in our study had received prophylactic antibiotic treatment, which can be considered to have failed for these patients because they ultimately required insertion of tympanostomy tubes. We found that patients who had a history of prophylactic antibiotic use had many more office visits before and after tube placement than patients who had not received prophylactic antibiotics. This difference could be a result of selection bias, since we considered only patients referred for tube insertion. Another factor may be that those patients with a history of prophylaxis were more sick (i.e., they had more infections and visits, thus prompting prophylactic antibiotic therapy). Intuitively, patients receiving prophylactic antibiotics should have fewer infections and thus fewer visits, because prophylaxis is intended to reduce the frequency of infection. On the other hand, our finding that prophylactic antibiotic therapy did not reduce the frequency of infection may be explained by bacterial resistance, as is found increasingly in organisms cultured in the United States from middle ear effusions. (10) If this trend continues, then bacterial resistance will have an increasing role in determining cost-effective treatment for otitis media.


Our cost analysis suggests that tympanostomy tube insertion is cost-effective treatment for otitis media. These tubes can improve the quality of life for affected children and their parents/caregivers and greatly reduce the caregiving burden. Our findings emphasize that parental quality-of-life issues need to be included in validated instruments designed for evaluating the cost-effectiveness of treatment for otitis media.
Table 1. Telephone survey questions to parent or
caregiver of a child who had had myringotomy with
tube insertion for otitis media

1. After insertion of tympanostomy ear tubes, were the
child's ear problems: "Better" "Unchanged" or "Worse"?

2. After insertion of tympanostomy ear tubes, was the
child's overall quality of life: "Better" "Unchanged," or

3. Before insertion of tympanostomy ear tubes, was your
burden in caring for the child's ear problems: "Great,"
"Moderate," or "None"?

4. After insertion of tympanostomy ear tubes, was your burden
in caring for the child's ear problems: "Decreased,"
"Unchanged," or "Increased"?

5. After insertion of tympanostomy ear tubes, was your
overall quality of life: "BetterS' "Unchanged," or "Worse"?
6. Please estimate the number of days off work or school
per year (0 to 65 days) for you or other caregivers as a
result of the child's ear infections before tympanostomy

7. Please estimate the number of days off work or school
per year (0 to 65 days) for you or other caregivers as a
result of the child's ear infections after tympanostomy

8. Do you feel that your child benefited from the surgery?
("Yes," "No," or "No comment")

9. Would you recommend this procedure to another parent
or caregiver of a child with ear infections? ("Yes," "No,"
or "No comment")

Table 2. Clinic visits and prescriptions for antibiotics
among 273 pediatric otitis media patients before and
after insertion of tympanostomy tubes

 Before tube After tube
Variable insertion insertion

No. of non-HNS
 clinic visits 8.4 2.4
No. of HNS clinic
 visits 2.2 0.4
Total no. of clinic
 visits 10.6 2.8
No. of routine HNS
 follow-up visits N/A 2.5
No. of prescriptions
 for antibiotic drugs 5.8 1.9

HNS = Head and Neck Surgery Department; N/A = not applicable.

Table 3. Clinic visits and prescriptions for antibiotics before and
after insertion of tympanostomy tubes in patients who did and did
not receive prophylactic antibiotics

 Prophylactic No prophylactic
 antibiotic use antibiotic use
Variable use (n = 114) (n = 159)

Total no. of clinic
 visits before
 tube insertion 13.7 7.4

Total no. of clinic
 visits after tube
 insertion 3.5 2.3

No. of preoperative
 prescriptions for
 antibiotics 8.3 4.1

No. of postoperative
 prescriptions for
 antibiotics 2.2 1.7

Table 4. Postoperative complications for 273 pediatric
patients treated for otitis media with tympanostomy
tube insertion

 No. (%) of
Complication patients

Repeat tube insertion 60 (22)
Persistent tubes 60 (22)
Persistent otorrhea 14 (5)
Granulation tissue 14 (5)
Persistent perforation 10 (4)
Cholesteatoma 0 (0)
Early extrusion 7 (3)
All 165 (60)

Table 5. Results of telephone survey: Quality of life and satisfaction
after child's myringotomy with insertion of tympanostomy tubes
(n = 200 parents or caregivers)

Postoperative variable Better Unchanged Worse

Child's ear
 problems 186 (93) 8 (4) 6 (3)
Child's overall
 quality of life 180 (90) 16 (8) 4 (2)
 quality of life 181 (91) 15 (8) 4 (2)

 Yes No No comment

Child benefited 191 (96) 3 (2) 6 (3)
Parent/caregiver would
 recommend procedure 185 (93) 4 (2) 11 (6)

Table 6. Results of telephone survey evaluating self-reported
burden on 200 parents or other caregivers

 No. (%) of responses giving evaluation
Burden on
 parent/caregiver Great Moderate None

Before tubes 135 (68) 55 (28) 10 (5)

 Decreased Unchanged Increased

After tubes 180 (90) 14 (7) 6 (3)


Ysabel Bertolucci, MSLS, assisted with the literature search; Larry Acosta Wong with database creation; and Esperanza Ceja, BA, with statistical analysis. The Medical Editing Department, Kaiser Foundation Hospitals, provided editorial assistance.


(1.) Otitis Media Guideline Panel. Otitis media with effusion in young children. Rockville, Md.: US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Agency for Health Care Policy and Research; 1994. (AHCPR Publication No. 94-0622.)

(2.) Gebhart DE. Tympanostomy tubes in the otitis media prone child. Laryngoscope 1981;91:849-66. (3.) Gonzalez C, Arnold JE, Woody EA, et al. Prevention of recurrent

acute otitis media: Chemoprophylaxis versus tympanostomy tubes. Laryngoscope 1986;96:1330-4.

(4.) Casselbrant ML, Kaleida PH, Rockette HE, et al. Efficacy of antimicrobial prophylaxis and of tympanostomy tube insertion for prevention of recurrent acute otitis media: Results of a randomized clinical trial. Pediatr Infect Dis J 1992;11:278-86.

(5.) Mandel EM, Rockette HE, Bluestone CD, et al. Myringotomy with and without tympanostomy tubes for chronic otitis media with effusion. Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg 1989;115:1217-24.

(6.) Mandel EM, Rockette HE. Bluestone CD, et al. Efficacy of myringotomy with and without tympanostomy tubes for chronic otitis media with effusion. Pediatr Infect Dis J 1992:11:270-7.

(7.) Rosenfeld RM, Goldsmith AJ, Tetlus L, Balzano A. Quality of life for children with otitis media. Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg 1997;123:1049-54.

(8.) Facione N. Quality of life issues in chronic otitis media with effusion: Parameters for future study. Int J Pediatr Otorhinolaryngol 1991 ;22:167-79.

(9.) Alsarraf R, Jung CJ, Perkins J, et al. Otitis media health status evaluation: A pilot study for the investigation of cost-effective outcomes of recurrent acute otitis media treatment. Ann Otol Rhinol Laryngol 1998;107:120-8.

(10.) Paradise JL. Managing otitis media: A time for change. Pediatrics 1995:96(4 pt 1):712-15.

From the Department of Head and Neck Surgery, Kaiser Permanente Medical Center, San Francisco (Dr. Mui), Oakland, Calif. (Dr. Rasgon, Dr. Hilsinger, and Ms. Lactao), and Walnut Creek, Calif. (Dr. Lewis).

Dr. Lewis is now with Group Health, Seattle.

The Kaiser Foundation Hospitals Direct Community Benefit Investment (DCBI) Program provided research support.

Originally presented at the annual meeting of the Triological Society, Western Section; January 8-10, 1999; Denver, and published in the proceedings of the meeting.

This study was the recipient of a Triological Society Travel Award.

Reprint requests: Stanley Mui, MD, Department of Head and Neck Surgery, Kaiser Permanente Medical Center, 450 Sixth Avenue, 2nd floor, San Francisco, CA 94118. Phone: (415) 202-5406; fax: (415) 202-4630; e-mail:
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Author:Lactao, Gretchen
Publication:Ear, Nose and Throat Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2005
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