Middle ear infections (known as otitis media) are quite common in young children, and while they are usually nothing to worry about it, it can become a problem if your child is dealing with frequent ear infections. If your child has the occasional ear infection, then you probably won’t need to consider ear tube surgery; usually, your otolaryngologist can treat the problem through antibiotics or other types of non-surgical procedures. While ear tube surgery is one of the most common surgeries performed on children each year, having a couple of ear infections throughout the year usually isn’t enough to warrant surgery.
You may want to speak with an ENT specialist about the benefits of ear tube surgery if your child has experienced at least three ear infections within the last six months. Also, if your child is dealing with muffled hearing or any hearing loss due to fluid build-up in the middle ear, then ear tubes may be beneficial. It's important to treat this quickly, as hearing problems can delay speech. Another situation that may warrant this surgery is if your child has a collapsing eardrum (known as atelectasis).
Your doctor can tell you whether or not your child could benefit from ear tube surgery. The purpose of the procedure is to place ear tubes into the ears to drain the fluid from the middle ear. This will serve two purposes:
- To prevent future ear infections (or, at the very least, make future infections milder)
- To improve hearing in your child
This procedure is performed by a qualified ear, nose, and throat surgeon and is performed under general anesthesia (this means your child will be asleep during the procedure). The surgery is fairly simple: a small hole is made in each eardrum to help drain the fluid. Then, once the fluid is properly drained, the surgeon will place these small tubes into the holes of the eardrums so that any fluid continues to drain properly. The surgery itself only takes about 10 to 15 minutes and children can get home the very same day.
Ear tubes typically stay in the eardrums for about 18 months, depending on the type of tube that was placed; however, if the ear tubes do not fall out on their own within a couple of years then an ENT surgeon may need to surgically remove them.
If your child is dealing with severe and recurring ear infections, you must see an ENT doctor right away to find out what’s going on and to make sure that they are getting the treatment they need. Ear tube surgery isn’t for every child, so talk with your qualified medical provider before deciding whether this is the right decision.