If your child is in need of ear tubes, you probably know why: lots of ear infections. And if your family is facing a decision about ear tube surgery, you’re not alone. After the common cold, ear infections (otitis media) are the most common reason that young children visit their pediatricians.
In many cases, ear infections clear up on their own without antibiotics or surgery. But repeat infections, known as recurrent otitis media can be problematic and be persistent causing pain or hearing problems due to the inflammation and fluid buildup behind the eardrum. As a pediatric ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist, I often recommend surgery to insert an ear tube for children who experience severe, recurrent ear infections.
Placing tubes in the ears has many benefits. An ear tube drains the fluid and equalizes the pressure in the middle ear. Ear tubes provide access to the infected area of the ear, allowing the use of eardrops to treat the ear infection. Ear drops are a safe alternative to the use of oral antibiotics, which can have side effects. If a child experiences hearing loss because of fluid or repeat otitis media, ear tubes can often restore hearing.
What to Expect From Ear Tube Surgery
Ear tubes can be inserted in an outpatient surgery clinic, which means your child doesn’t need to be admitted to the hospital overnight. Even if your child needs tubes for both ears, the surgery takes 10-15 minutes.
During the surgery, your child is placed under general anesthesia while an ENT specialist makes a small incision in the ear drum, removes the fluid and inserts the ear tube. Antibiotic drops will also be placed in the ear.
Children who have ear tube surgery usually recover quickly and have little pain or other symptoms after the procedure. You and your child can return home within one to two hours, and your child will probably be able to return to school or child care the next day.
Follow-up visits to the doctor every six months are important to make sure the tubes are functional and your child’s hearing has improved. The tubes normally stay in for 12-36 months and often fall out on their own. The child may swim and participate in water sports with ear tubes. Ear plugs are recommended if swimming in lakes or oceans is planned.
Charles A. Elmaraghy, MD, is chief of the Department of Otolaryngology at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and an active faculty member in the Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery and a professor of Clinical Otolaryngology at The Ohio State University College of Medicine.
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