When are Ear Tubes Recommended for Children?

Dr. Daniel A. Larson

Southwest Ohio ENT Specialists.

Ear tubes, also known as tympanostomy tubes, are a common procedure for children with chronic ear problems. If you are a parent whose child is struggling with frequent ear infections or hearing loss, you may be wondering if ear tubes are the right solution. In this article, we’ll discuss the indications for ear tubes in children and what you can expect from the procedure.

Middle ear infections are a common problem in children, especially those under the age of 3. When a child has frequent ear infections, the pressure in the middle ear can become elevated, causing pain and hearing loss. In some cases, the fluid that builds up in the middle ear can also become infected, leading to further hearing problems.

Ear tubes are indicated for children who have had 4 or more ear infections within a six-month period OR have more than 6 infections in a year.   Another indication is for persistent fluid in the middle ear lasting for more than three months.

Ear tubes are also indicated for children who have hearing loss due to fluid in the middle ear (conductive hearing loss), and for children with eustachian tube dysfunction, which can cause repeated ear infections.

The procedure for inserting ear tubes is simple and typically takes less than 10 minutes. The procedure is performed under mask general anesthesia, so your child will be asleep during the procedure and won’t feel any pain. Most often no shots or IVs are needed for the procedure.

During the procedure, your Otolaryngologist will make a small incision (2-3mm) in the eardrum and insert a tiny plastic tube. This tube helps to drain fluid from the middle ear and equalize pressure, which can reduce the risk of future ear infections and improve hearing.

After the procedure, most children experience some mild discomfort, but this typically subsides within a day and can be treated with OTC tylenol. Your child may also experience some hearing improvement and reduced risk of ear infections. In most cases, the ear tubes will fall out on their own within 1 year, and the eardrum will heal naturally.  Most ear tubes are waterproof down to 4 feet underwater and do not need any special restrictions.

The most common complication after ear tubes is a very small chance of leaving a hole in the ear drum (1-2%) or if the tube does not fall out on its own, it may have to be removed after 2-3 years and the ear drum patched.

It’s important to note that ear tubes are not a cure for all ear problems, and it’s possible for fluid to build up in the middle ear again after the tubes have fallen out. In some cases, a child may need to have ear tubes inserted more than once or remove the adenoids. Your Otolaryngologist will monitor your child’s progress and determine if a repeat procedure is necessary.

In conclusion, ear tubes are a safe and effective procedure for children with chronic ear infections or hearing loss due to fluid in the middle ear. If your child is experiencing these symptoms, please contact Southwest Ohio ENT Specialists to make an appointment at (937) 496 – 2600.



AAO-HNSF Clinical Practice Guideline: Tympanostomy Tubes in Children

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