Q&A: My three year-old son gets ear infections every fall and spring. Does he need to get ear tubes? -T. in Georgia
Thanks, T. Constantly battling with ear infections can take a toll on you as well as your child. We place tubes usually for two separate reasons: #1 fluid behind the eardrum that does not clear up in 2-3 months after an infection. While fluid is there, hearing may be reduced significantly enough to cause speech delay or impediment, or poor school benhavior. And #2: recurrent ear infections, 3 in 6 months or 4 in 12 months. Basically it may be safer to have a minor procedure than suffer through all the misery of painful ear infections and expose your child to so much antibiotics. Kids generally do grow out of infections by 6-8 years old. Tubes last about 1 year then fall out. Ideally a child grows out of the tendency for ear infections about the time the tube falls out. Some kids wind up needing new tubes over and over again, but this is not super common. Surgery takes only about 3 minutes per side done under anesthetic gas in an operating room. No IV’s usually. After tubes are in, you do have to think about keeping the ears dry. My recommendation for most kids is to dry the ear with hair-dryer after swimming and place a few prophylactic drops of antibiotic. No special precautions for baths (for most kids). Custom ear plugs may also be used. After tubes are placed, if infection does happen again usually no pain because the infected pus just drains out the tube and can often be treated with just ear drops.
Basically if your child is spending a large amount of time in pain, on antibiotics, or with fluid behind the ear waiting for infection to clear then I usually just recommend placing tubes.