When your Toddler Needs Ear Tubes

A week before my son’s first birthday, he was diagnosed with his tenth ear infection. It was like clockwork. First, the shrill, distinct cry that meant he had an ear infection. We’d make the trip to the pediatrician’s office and receive a script for a 10-day course of amoxicillin (the pink stuff). The infection would clear, followed by 2-3 weeks without incident; then without fail, a recurrence. 

Stubborn, this infection refused to improve. The following weekend (on vacation in Corona Del Mar, CA) we waited at an urgent care with our miserable and sleep-deprived toddler. Armed with a stronger antibiotic, we headed back to Sylvania. I immediately made an appointment at our pediatrician’s office. For three consecutive days, my son was subjected to two powerful shots of antibiotics, one in each leg. 

Feeling defeated, we consulted with Promedica ENT Dr. Stephanie Cole for her opinion. Because of the frequency of the infections and the need for increasingly strong antibiotics, she recommended ear tubes. The decision was an easy one, and we immediately scheduled a date for the ear tube surgery. The outcome was incredible. A year and a half later, he has not had a single ear infection. 

Dr. Cole shares some facts about ear tubes.

Criteria for Ear Tubes and a Solution for Hearing Loss

“A very common reason for placing tubes through the eardrums is recurrent or chronic ear infection.  We typically say 4 infections in 6 months or 6 in 12 months meets criteria for tube placement.  Other criteria…include persistent fluid for 3 or more months or even a shorter time if it is causing hearing loss,” Dr. Cole explains.

“Ear infections cause inflammation and accumulation of fluid in the middle ear space which is normally filled only with air.  The presence of this fluid and inflammation makes the transmission of sound much less efficient, causing hearing loss.  Once this condition is resolved, the hearing is likely to be restored,” Dr. Cole added.

An Ear Tube Surgery Overview

The procedure is done under general anesthesia. Dr. Cole details, “Tubes are very small (about 2-3mm total diameter with approximately 1.2mm opening in the center) and require a microscope for placement. A very small incision is made in the front part of the eardrum for placement of the tube, and any fluid is removed by suction. Ear drops are usually instilled through the tubes at the end of the procedure and used for several days afterward to help treat any infection of fluid left in the middle ear.”

The appointment was scheduled for first thing in the morning; we were in and out of the hospital by 9am. Our son was crying and confused when he woke from the anesthesia, but after sleeping it off for a couple hours at home, he was visibly more comfortable.

Limiting Risk Factors

Dr. Cole shares several precautions to lower risk: “The most important thing any parent can do is not allow their children to be exposed to cigarette or other tobacco smoke. Do not put babies to sleep with bottles… make sure kids are up to date on their immunizations and that they keep a steady sleeping and eating schedule,” Dr. Cole advises. Children who attend daycare or preschool are at an increased risk of ear infections simply because they are exposed to more viruses and