When you see your child tug or rub on their ear and then wince with pain, you dread what it could mean – an ear infection.
An ear infection happens when part of the ear (inner, middle or outer) becomes inflamed with infection. Most ear infections happen in the middle ear.
Five out of six children have an ear infection by the time they are three years old. If your child suffers from recurring middle ear infections, ear tubes may help provide relief.
Ear tubes are plastic cylinders and look like tiny hollow spools. They can help with ear infections in several ways:
Your child’s ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist may consider ear tubes if your child has had fluid behind the eardrum in both ears for more than three months and has hearing loss, or if your child has chronic ear infections.
Normally, the Eustachian tube carries fluid from your middle ear to your throat. If your Eustachian tube becomes swollen, fluid can get trapped in your middle ear. Bacteria and viruses can then begin to grow in that fluid and cause an ear infection.
Placing a tube in your child’s eardrum reroutes the fluid; instead of sending it to the Eustachian tube, it can travel to the ear canal and out of the ear. The tube allows air to get to the middle ear, preventing an infection from forming at all.
Your child’s ENT doctor can insert ear tubes in an outpatient surgery setting. The procedure only takes about 15 minutes. Your child will be under general anesthesia (asleep) but should be able to go home within one or two hours of surgery.
Talk to your child’s ENT doctor about specific instructions on how to prepare for surgery.
Painful pressure or hearing loss from fluid will be relieved immediately after the placement of tubes. Your child will likely be able to return to daycare or school the day after the procedure.
You’ll want to follow up with child’s ENT within two to four weeks after the procedure to make sure the tubes are functioning properly. It’s important to remember that even with ear tubes, your child may still get an occasional ear infection.
Side effects from getting tubes in your ears are fairly low risk. There is a possibility of bleeding or infection, persistent drainage, scarring or weakening of the eardrum or failure of the eardrum to close after the tube comes out.
Normally, ear tubes will stay in place for about six to nine months and then fall out on their own. Sometimes, they need to be removed surgically. If they fall out too soon, your child may need to have them put in again.
If your child is suffering from repeated ear infections, talk to their primary care doctor. They can make a treatment recommendation and provide a referral to an ENT for surgery if needed.