Ear tubes, technically called tympanostomy tubes, are small plastic (sometimes metal) tubes that are surgically inserted into the eardrum. This provides a channel for air, allowing it to flow freely into and out of your child's middle ear, effectively preventing most ear infections. While tube insertion is a very low-risk, minimally invasive procedure, it's not a first line of treatment for ear infections. These signs might mean it's time to consider this option.
Multiple ear infections
If your child has had more than three ear infections in a six-month period, they might be a great candidate for tube insertion. Tubes can help reduce or prevent future ear infections and the risks associated with them.
Common signs of an ear infection include crying, fussiness, trouble sleeping, pulling on the ears, drainage from the ear, and problems with balance.
Shows signs of hearing loss
Infants and children with recurring ear infections often retain fluid in the middle ear, which can have a direct impact on their hearing. This fluid causes children to hear words and sounds as if they were underwater, which distorts the sound and makes it difficult to decipher. Because of the hearing difficulty this causes, recurring ear infections and persistent fluid in the middle ear can also delay the development of speech or increase the chances of speech impediment.
If your child begins to show signs of hearing loss or delayed speech, it might be time to ask your doctor about incorporating tubes into their treatment plan.
Recurring ear infections, chronic ear infection (one that persists despite antibiotics and other treatment), and fluid retention in the middle ear can eventually cause the eardrum to collapse. In turn, a collapsed eardrum can cause secondary health problems like hearing loss and bone erosion in the ear.
If your child has a collapsed eardrum, insertion of tympanostomy tubes might be a reasonable next step in their treatment plan to prevent further complications.
Prior to placement of tubes, Dr. Vandana will use general anesthesia to ensure your child sleeps through the brief surgery and doesn’t experience pain or anxiety. The tube placement takes approximately 10-15 minutes, and then your child is moved to recovery, where they awake from anesthesia.
It’s very common for young children to cry for several minutes to an hour after waking up; this is a side effect of anesthesia. Your child will need to stay in the recovery room until their vital signs are normal and they are able to swallow food and drink. Most parents find that their child is quite tired the day of surgery but otherwise feels well. By the next morning, they will have their energy back and can return to regular activities.
Tubes fall out on their own six to 18 months after surgery in most cases. If your child’s tubes haven’t fallen out three years after surgery, let your ENT know so they can take a look and determine whether surgical removal is necessary.
To find out if it’s time for tubes for your child, book your appointment with ENT New York online today. Dr. Vandana Kuma has extensive experience in both evaluation and tube placement.