Many young children are prone to ear infections. But how do you know if
your child has a more serious issue that requires ear tubes?
Dr. Jeremy Meier, an Ear, Nose, & Throat Specialist with U of U Healthcare
explains more about ear infections and when it may be time to consider ear
How common are ear infections?
Next to the common cold, ear infections are the most commonly diagnosed
childhood illness in the United States. More than 3 out of 4 kids have had
at least one ear infection by the time they reach 3 years of age.
When should a parent start thinking their child needs tympanostomy
A parent should consult with an n ear specialist after 4 ear infections in 6
months or 6 in 12 months. Also, if a child has middle ear fluid, that’s not
really infected, persist for longer than 3 months.
How do ear tubes work?
Myringotomy tubes are small tubes that are surgically placed into your
child’s eardrum by an ear, nose, and throat surgeon. The tubes may be
made of plastic, metal, or Teflon®. The tubes are placed to help drain the
fluid out of the middle ear in order to reduce the risk of ear infections.
During an ear infection, fluid gathers in the middle ear, which can affect
your child’s hearing. Sometimes, even after the infection is gone, some
fluid may remain in the ear. The tubes help drain this fluid, and prevent it
from building up. The most common ages are from one to three years old.
By the age of five years, most children have wider and longer eustachian
tubes (a canal that links the middle ear with the throat area), thus, allowing
better drainage of fluids from the ear.
What are the advantages? What are the disadvantages? (Dr. Meier: Pick
ones you feel are most important)
The risks and benefits will be different for each child. It is important to
discuss this with your child’s physician and surgeon. The following are
some of the possible benefits that may be discussed
· Ear tubes may help to reduce the risk of future ear infections.
· Hearing is restored in some children who experience hearing problems.
· Speech development is not harmed.
· Ear tubes allow time for the child to mature and for the eustachian tube
to work more efficiently. (By the age of 5 years, the eustachian tube
becomes wider and longer, thus, allowing for better drainage of fluids from
· Children’s behavior, sleep, and communication may be improved if ear
infections were causing problems.
The following are some of the risks that may be discussed:
· Some children with ear tubes continue to develop ear infections.
· There may be problems with the tubes coming out:
· The tubes usually fall out in about one year. After they fall out, if ear
infections recur, they may need to be replaced.
· If they remain in the ear too long, the surgeon may need to remove
· After they come out, they may leave a small scar in the eardrum. This
may cause some hearing loss.
· Some children may develop an infection after the tubes are inserted.
· Sometimes, after the tube comes out, a small hole may remain in the
eardrum. This hole may need to be repaired with surgery.
Will I always know when my child has an ear infection? What are the
The following are the most common symptoms of otitis media. However,
individuals may experience symptoms differently.
Common signs of otitis media in children include:
· Unusual irritability
· Difficulty sleeping or staying asleep
· Tugging or pulling at one or both ears
· Fluid draining from ear(s)
· Loss of balance
· Hearing difficulties
The symptoms of otitis media may resemble other conditions or medical
problems. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.
So what should I be looking out for?
If he turns the TV up really loud, if you or anyone else notice he has a “hard
time” responding to you, or if his speech development is behind for his
age, these are all signs that a child might have an underlying hearing loss
that should at least be checked.
For more information about ear, nose, and throat issues, contact University
of Utah Hospital’s Ear, Nose, and Throat Clinic at
801-662-1740 for appointments