Teach Me

Does My Child Need Ear Tubes?

“Why does my kid get so many ear infections?!” cries the mother, as she dials the doctor’s all-too-familiar phone number. Your kid is grumpy and so are you. But neither of you should feel alone in this aural assault. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), ear infections are the most common reason that parents bring their children to the doctor. In fact, five out of six kids will have at least one ear infection before they turn three.

Russell Horton, DO, a pediatrician at Banner Health Center in Queen Creek, Arizona offered his insight to help us better understand the causes, risks and treatments of chronic ear infections. He also discussed whether “ear tubes” are the right answer for children suffering from a flat, full ear canal.

Ear infections usually occur when a child has an upper respiratory infection like a common cold. This leads to congestion in the nose, upper throat, and the eustachian tubes. Surplus fluid behind the ear drum then becomes infected by bacteria. This is more common in children because the angle of their eustachian tube is typically flatter and more easily blocked.”

Are my child’s ear infections chronic?

As you and your child wake up to yet another ear infection, you may wonder if your child’s ear infections are considered chronic. In response to the same questions, Dr. Horton noted that the criteria they use is three infections over 6 months or four infections over one year. “Yup, that’s us,” you sigh quietly to yourself. Don’t worry, there are options for how to address your child’s “overachieving” ear canals.

What is an ear tube?

It’s exactly what you’re probably imagining. “An ear tube, or tympanostomy tube, is a small tube put through the ear drum that allows fluid to drain from the middle ear space,” Dr. Horton explained. “It prevents fluid build-up and infection and the insertion procedure is performed by a pediatric ear, nose and throat specialist.”

Let’s list the pros and cons

“Recurring or chronic ear infections can lead to damage of the middle ear and potential hearing loss. Even if the damage isn’t permanent, impaired hearing can delay speech development in your child,” according to Dr. Horton. Below, he outlined these pros and cons for parents considering ear tubes for their child.

Pros
  • Less infections
  • Decreased chance of hearing loss
  • Better quality of life
  • Less frequent pain
Cons
  • While it’s common, it’s a surgery, which carries the risks associated with the procedure and anesthesia. Parents should discuss the options with their ear, nose and throat surgeon prior to any procedure to decide if it is right for their child’s specific case.

Hear us out

Ear infections are common but can be serious if left untreated. Schedule a visit with your pediatrician to discuss the options available for you and your child. If your child develops the occasional ear infection, antibiotics and other non-surgical options are likely the only remedy they need.

During COVID-19 and after, virtual visits can be a convenient and safe way to keep your family comfortable at home. Although, some evaluations must be made in person, ask your doctor if a video visit is the right move for your next appointment.

Children's Health Ear, Nose and Throat Cold and Flu
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