Nearly every child experiences at least one episode of painful ear infection by the age of five. Most ear infections either resolve on their own or are effectively treated by antibiotics. But sometimes ear infections and/or fluid in the middle ear may become a chronic problem leading to other issues, such as hearing loss, or behavior and speech problems. In these cases, insertion of an ear tube by an otolaryngologist (pronounced oh/toe/lair/in/goll/oh/jist) may be considered. These specialists are commonly referred to as ENT physicians.
What are ear tubes? Ear tubes are tiny cylinders placed through the ear drum to allow air into the middle ear. There are two basic types of ear tubes: short-term and long-term. Short- term tubes are smaller and typically stay in place for six months to a year before falling out on their own. Long-term tubes are larger and have flanges that secure them in place for a longer period of time. Long-term tubes may fall out on their own, but removal by an otolaryngologist may be necessary.
Who needs ear tubes? Ear tubes are often recommended when a person experiences repeated middle ear infection or has hearing loss caused by the persistent presence of middle ear fluid. These conditions most commonly occur in children, but can also be present in teens and adults.
What will ear tubes help? Inserting ear tubes may: reduce the risk of future ear infection; restore hearing loss caused by middle ear fluid;
improve speech problems and balance problems; improve behavior and sleep problems caused by chronic ear infections.
Consultation with an ear, nose, and throat specialist may be warranted if you or your child has experienced repeated or severe ear infections, ear infections that are not resolved with antibiotics, hearing loss due to fluid in the middle ear, barotrauma, or have an anatomic abnormality that inhibits drainage of the middle ear.
Extra Tidbits: *Each year, more than half a million ear tube surgeries are performed on children, making it the most common childhood surgery performed with anesthesia. *The average age for ear tube insertion is one to three years old.
Source: American Academy of Otolaryngology, entnet.org