November 5, 2019

Ear Tubes in Children: Questions Answered

By Shawn E. Rogers, M.D.

Middle ear infections, also known as otitis media, are common in children. In fact, many children experience one or two infections in the first two years of life. However, when these ear infections are frequent or take longer than usual to resolve, a doctor may recommend ear tube surgery. This procedure helps prevent future ear infections, allows air pressure in the middle ear to equalize, alleviates hearing loss and more.

Each year, hundreds of thousands of children undergo ear tube procedures, according to eMedicineHealth. The surgery is called a myringotomy and involves a small incision in the eardrum with PE tube placement.

What else do parents need to know about ear tube surgery for children?  

Question: How do I know if my child needs ear tubes?

Answer: The Eustachian Tube is a narrow tube connecting the back of the nose to the middle ear. It helps to drain the mucus produced inside the ear and regulates pressure, but in small children this tube is anatomically different than in adults. Allergies and sinus infections occasionally cause ear congestion, resulting in a buildup of fluid in the middle ear. If your child experiences frequent ear infections, speak to your physician to determine whether a new course of treatment, such as ear tube surgery, may be appropriate.

Question: What happens during ear tube surgery?

Answer: Before ear tube surgery begins, your child will receive anesthesia with a mask so that they will be asleep throughout the procedure. While the patient is asleep, the physician makes a tiny incision in the ear drum to drain out any fluid that has built up in the middle ear. Then, a very small tube made of metal or plastic is carefully inserted into the incision to help increase air flow to the middle ear. This increased air flow helps to prevent additional fluid build-up in the future. The procedure is typically done in the outpatient surgery center, with the patient arriving in the morning and leaving after a short recovery period.

Question: What risks do ear tubes pose for my child?

Answer: Risks may include the general risk of anesthesia during surgery, the need to have another surgery if tubes fall out early or stay in too long, and chronic drainage. While ear tube surgery is a common and safe procedure, it’s possible for complications to occur. Check with your doctor post-surgery if your child experiences a fever of 102 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, you notice drainage from the ear for more than a week or persistent pain/bleeding occurs. Despite the potential risks and complications involved with ear tube surgery, the benefits include decreased risk of ear infections, improved hearing and better speech development.

Question: What other treatment options are available?

Answer: Some cases of ear congestion and ear infection can be successfully treated using decongestants or antibiotics. Always speak with your physician about the best course of treatment for your child and always follow the dosage instructions for any prescribed medications.

At Puget Sound ENT, we offer comprehensive diagnosis and treatment of all ear, nose and throat conditions, and are well versed in the special care required to evaluate and properly treat younger patients. If your child is experiencing frequent ear infections please call 425-775-6651 or visit our Contact Us page to schedule your appointment today.

About Dr. Shawn Rogers

Dr. Shawn Rogers is a board-certified otolaryngologist. She earned her medical degree from the Creighton University School of Medicine in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1994. She completed her internship in general surgery at the University of Nebraska in 1996 and conducted research at Fellow Boys Town National Research Hospital in Omaha, Nebraska in 1994 and 1995. Dr. Rogers completed her residency in Otolaryngology and head and neck surgery at the University of Nebraska in Omaha, Nebraska, in 2000, and became board certified in Otolaryngology (American Board of Otolaryngology) in 2001.