Most kids will only experience a few ear infections, if any, in a year. Some children, however, will have chronic ear infections and even have difficulty in hearing or talking normally. Pediatricians may recommend ear tube surgery as a solution to your children’s condition. Here’s what to know about the ear tubes, when to know if your child needs it, and what the surgery’s benefits and risks are.
Ear Tube Surgery For Children
Also referred to as myringotomy, the procedure involves using small ear tubes to help drain the fluid out of your child’s middle ear.
When your toddler has an ear infection, fluid tends to build up in his or her middle ear. This affects the child’s hearing and sometimes, fluid may remain in the ear even after the infection is gone. The ear tubes which are tiny cylinders will help drain this fluid, preventing it from building up and allowing air into the middle ear. These tubes are placed through the eardrum and can be made of metal, plastic, or Teflon. The surgery is performed by an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) surgeon.
At the Pediatric ENT Associates in Birmingham, Alabama, their ENT doctors are widely published experts in the field and are always on top of the latest advancements in ear, nose, and throat health. Each doctor is fully board-certified and has an up-to-date medical license from the state of Alabama. Therapies offered for ear infections include fluid drainage, antibiotics, and myringotomy. Not only do they aim to preserve a child’s hearing, but they also take time to teach patients and their parents how to prevent future ear infections.
When Is Ear Tube Surgery Recommended?
Many kids get middle ear infections (otitis media) when they have a cold or other respiratory infections. Bacteria and viruses can enter the middle ear and fill it with pus or fluid. As the buildup pushes on the eardrum, the child can experience earache as well as affected hearing. Decreased hearing in young children for long periods can also lead to delays in speech development.
Your child’s doctor may suggest ear tubes when your child has the following symptoms
- Fluid in one or both ears for 3 months or more
- Significant hearing loss for 3 months or more
- Ear infections that don’t clear easily and don’t respond to treatments
- Issues such as ear pain, trouble with balance, and problems with behavior or performance in school
- Atelectasis or a collapsed drum which can lead to decreased hearing or erosion of the bones in the ear.
What Happens During Ear Tube Surgery?
Myringotomy is done in an operating room while the child is under general anesthesia. The ENT surgeon will make a small opening in each eardrum using a small scalpel or laser. Suction is used to remove fluid and to relieve pressure from the middle ear. The surgeon will place a small tube into the hole in the eardrum, allowing air to flow into the middle ear. This will also prevent fluid from building up. After the 10 to 15-minute procedure, the child will be monitored for possible complications from the surgery or anesthesia. Most parents can bring their child home a few hours after the surgery.
The tube usually falls out on its own as the eardrum heals. The tube will generally stay in the ear anywhere from 6 to 18 months, depending on the type of tube used.
Why Is Ear Tube Surgery Done?
Successfully draining fluid from the middle ear offers these benefits:
- Ear tubes may lower the risk for future ear infections
- Improvement in hearing
- Speech development can progress
- Improvement of child’s behavior, communication, and sleep
Risks And Complications After Ear Tube Surgery
Myringotomy is generally considered safe and low risk. But just like any other surgery, some complications can occur. Risks include:
- Hole in the eardrum doesn’t heal
- Scarring of the eardrum
- Blocked tubes caused by mucus or blood
- Tubes do not fall out on their own
- Tubes needed to be reinserted
- Constant discharge of pus or fluid from the ear
- Thickening of eardrum
- Children with ear tubes still getting ear infections
- Children getting a fever or infection from the tubes
Although ear tube surgery is quite common (it is the most common outpatient surgery performed on children in the United States, per meps.ahrq.gov), the surgery is usually not the first choice of treatment for otitis media. Antibiotics are typically used to treat bacterial ear infections. However, many ear infections are viral and cannot be treated with antibiotics, and surgery becomes a viable option.
Do You Think It’s Time To Consider Ear Tube Surgery For Your Child?
If your child suffers from frequent ear infections or has hearing loss associated with fluid buildup in their ears, it may be time to consider ear tube surgery. Contact us at Pediatric ENT Associates at Children’s of Alabama in Birmingham for an ear evaluation. Call our offices to make an appointment and to learn more about the benefits of ear tubes for your child today.
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