If you’re a parent, it probably comes as no surprise that middle ear infections are common in children, particularly those between the ages of six months and two years. Infrequently, ear infections can even persist into adulthood. Known as otitis media, these are caused by a number of factors, both physical and environmental.
Most ear infections clear up on their own, or are treated with antibiotics. But in some children, they can become a chronic problem that causes other issues, such as delays in speech development and learning. For these children, ear tubes may be recommended.
What Are Ear Tubes?
Ear tubes are tiny cylinders, made from plastic or other materials, which are surgically inserted into the eardrum. They are meant to remain in place from six months to as long as several years; at some point they will either fall out on their own, or will need to be surgically removed. They go by a variety of names including tympanostomy tubes, ventilation tubes and PE (pressure equalization) tubes.
The surgery to make a tiny opening through the eardrum and reach the fluid or infection is known as a myringotomy. It is an outpatient procedure performed under general anesthesia in children, and in some cases, it is performed right in the doctor’s office in adults. A small incision is made in the eardrum, fluid behind the eardrum is suctioned out, and the tube is inserted. The procedure is quick and painless. Myringotomy is a common and safe procedure, and complications are rare.
Benefits of Ear Tubes
Ear tubes provide ventilation to the middle ear and allow fluids to drain, reducing the chances of an ear infection from occurring. They can restore hearing loss caused by excess middle ear fluid, alleviate speech and balance problems, and improve behavior and sleep problems caused by ear infections. Should an ear infection develop, they also provide a route into the infected space behind the eardrum, through which antibiotic ear drops can be placed. This significantly decreases the need for antibiotics taken by mouth and eliminates the problematic side effects these oral antibiotics can have on the entire body.
Ear tubes are highly effective in reducing chronic ear infections, though some children (approximately 25 percent) who receive them before the age of two may need them again.
If you or your child has struggled with ear infections or chronic fluid behind the ear drum, our doctors can help! Call DeFatta ENT & Allergy at (715) 828-2368 for more information or to schedule an appointment.