Tubes for Ear Infections

Ear tubes are often recommended for children with persistent or chronic ear infections causing fluid to build up behind the eardrum. Young children often experience pain and deafness due to the blockage caused by the excess fluid. Children who have decreased hearing because of the excess fluid may fall behind in language and speech development. Tiny tubes known as pressure tubes, ventilation tubes, or myringotomy tubes surgically placed through a small opening made in the eardrum allows excess fluid to drain through the tube. As the pressure is equalized and infection subsides, children who have been deaf due to blockage regain their hearing.

Otitis media is the most common causes of ear infections and excess fluid blockage in young children. More than seventy percent of children between the ages of six months to a year old will experience multiple ear infections. This is due to a child’s short Eustachian tubes that make it easier for fluid to build up in the middle ear. Most children with an ear infection experience temporary deafness. Ear infections are often most frequent during the time young children are developing language and speech skills. A child who is deaf due to frequent middle ear obstructions may fall behind in verbal communication. Recurrent ear infections are a leading cause of permanent deafness among children.

Signs of an ear infection include:

  • Crying
  • Whining
  • Pulling on the ears
  • Pain
  • Fever

Risk factors for a middle ear infection include:

  • Age – Children 6-36 months
  • Exposure to second-hand smoke
  • Allergies
  • Recent upper respiratory infection
  • Attending Daycare
  • Pacifier use
  • Using a bottle while lying down
  • Family members with a history of ear infections

Recently revived recommendations suggest waiting seventy-two hours before starting an antibiotic as often ear infections will resolve on their own during that time. Over the counter medications for pain relief may be suggested. Always contact your doctor and if pain, fever or irritability last longer than 48-72 hours have your child evaluated by a pediatrician.

There are some conflicting thoughts on surgery  for ear tube placement. The use of drainage tubes is often recommended to prevent delays in language, psychosocial, or cognitive development. However, studies thus far show no significant difference in this area between children who had surgery as soon as possible and those who waited. For children who had surgery, there was a slight decrease in the recurrence of infections. When asking your doctor for ear tube surgery information, discuss the possibility of having your child’s tonsils and/ or adenoids removed at the same time. Some studies have shown when both tube placement and tonsil or adenoid removal is done; children have a significantly lower risk for recurring ear infections.

Is ear tubes surgery necessary? Children with recurrent infections that result in excessive fluid buildup, benefit the most from tube placement surgery. When there is a concern that your child may become deaf, education concerning all outcome possibilities is needed. Temporary deafness due to an ear infection often resolves on its own. However, knowing that a large percent of children who become permanently deaf due to ear infections makes it imperative to monitor your child and seek medical advice. Deaf education includes knowing how to protect your child’s hearing. Each child and situation is unique. With over twenty-four million children in America in the deaf community, there is a need to involve yourself in deaf education to learn your child’s risk. Hearing loss among children has been increasing. Unfortunately, most of society does not know much about the deaf community unless someone they know is deaf or hard of hearing. Functionally deaf people account for up to two percent of the population in the US according to some statistics and individuals who are hard-of hearing push the number of people with significant hearing loss close to seventeen percent. It is hard to estimate accurately the number of people in the deaf community due to an unclear definition of deafness.

Those involved in the deaf culture often lend to the confusion in trying to define a difference between deaf people or those who are hard of hearing. Some deaf people choose to immerse themselves in a deaf culture where their lack of hearing is simply a part of who they are. Others in the deaf culture include those who are hard of hearing. For children with recurrent ear infections who become deaf, education is needed to understand all options and intervention possibilities. Most children experiencing hearing loss during and shortly after an ear infection will recover their hearing. For some, recurrent infection can permanently damage the nerves within the inner ear. When these nerves are damaged, hearing loss is generally permanent. Every child is different. As a parent, you have the responsibility to safeguard your child’s health and hearing as much as possible. If hearing loss should occur, knowing all options for early treatment and intervention can help obtain the best possible outcome.