Many children suffer from ear infections, often between six months and two years of age. Lifestyle factors may lead to more frequent ear infections in some cases, like attending group daycare or secondhand smoke exposure. Children with chronic or recurrent ear infections, or those for whom hearing loss or speech delay are suspected due to fluid behind the ear drum, may be candidates for ear tube surgery.
“If your child has had three or more ear infections in the last six months, or four or more infections in the last year, with the most recent one being in the past six months, they may be a candidate for ear tube surgery,” says Dr. Kevin Huoh, a pediatric otolaryngologist at CHOC. Consult your pediatrician and ask about a referral to a pediatric ear, nose and throat specialist.
“Children who have experienced hearing loss as the result of chronic fluid behind the ear drum will benefit from improved hearing as a result of ear tube surgery,” says Huoh. “For children with speech delay or at-risk for speech, language, or learning disorders, we may recommend ear tube placement at an even earlier time.”
Along with improved hearing, parents and caregivers may notice increased development of speech and language abilities. For children with frequent ear infections, ear tubes will decrease the incidence of these infections.
Ear tubes are tiny cylinders about 1 millimeter long, about the size of a grain of rice. They are surgically inserted into the eardrum to create a ventilation system for the middle ear, and also to prevent fluid from accumulating behind the ear drum, says Huoh. Audiograms, non-invasive hearing tests, are performed before and after the operation.
“After ear tube surgery, we often see patients experience an improved quality of life, including improved sleep and decreased fussiness, improved balance and improved school performance,” says Huoh.
Recovery from the routine procedure is usually very easy, he adds. Children are usually back to their normal selves within a day. Biannual checkups help care teams monitor the status of the ear tubes.
Typically, ear tubes remain in place for six-12 months before falling out on their own. If they come out prematurely, the ears will be observed for return of infections, or fluid that may require replacement.
CHOC Children’s perform this common procedure hundreds of time per year, says Huoh.