Can Ear Tubes Help My Toddler?

By Tracy Wright
Doctor looking at baby's ear

We’ve all had kids with ear infections—the pain, high fever and lethargy are awful for toddlers and parents! Unfortunately, some kids are just more prone to getting frequent infections, which can be awfully uncomfortable for toddlers, and even worse, cause hearing or speech issues. But, ear tubes might be able to help your toddler.

What causes ear infections?

Middle ear infections, or otitis media, can happen when children develop colds or respiratory infections, according to Nemours KidsHealth, which is very common in toddlers. Fluid enters the middle ear which can cause an earache and discomfort. Mayo Clinic says the eustachian, or ear, tubes of young children “are narrower and more level than adults’ eustachian tubes are. So, they’re harder to drain and more likely to get clogged.”

What are ear tubes?

A common treatment for frequent ear infections are ear tubes. “Ear tube surgery can drain fluid from the middle ear, prevent future infections and help the child hear properly again,” as noted by Nemours KidsHealth.

Ear tubes are “tiny, hollow tubes…usually made of plastic or metal…that surgeons place into the eardrums during surgery. An ear tube allows air into the middle ear. Ear tubes keep fluid from building up behind the eardrums,” according to the Mayo Clinic.

How does a child get ear tubes?

Ear tube surgery is done under general anesthesia where your child is carefully monitored by specialists. An ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgeon will perform the surgery where they place small holes into each eardrum and remove fluid from the middle ear, relieving pressure and hopefully preventing future infections. Per the Mayo Clinic, “ear tubes likely won’t prevent all ear infections, but they can make them milder and happen less often.”

The risks for ear tube surgery are thankfully small, as noted by Nemours, “this is a very common and safe procedure, although there are risks with any surgery, including infection, bleeding and problems with anesthesia.”

Obviously, any kind of general anesthesia surgery on a child will make any parent apprehensive, especially with those as young as a toddler. However, your health care team should be able to prepare you well for the procedure, which typically only lasts about 10-15 minutes. Ask them about fasting, allergies, prepping for surgery and when you and your child should be at the hospital.

Try as best you can to help your child understand what will happen and assure them that they will take a short nap, and Mom or Dad will be there as soon as they wake up. It may be helpful to allow them to pick out a comfort toy for the surgery, and bring a special gift they will receive after the procedure.

Post-surgery care

After surgery, your child will wake up and likely spend a few hours in recovery and then they can go home, said Nemours KidsHealth. Ask your team about preferred diet and ways to help with any possible pain.

“Children might be sleepy and cranky for the rest of the day. They also might feel like throwing up. Most often, children can go back to their regular activities within 24 hours of the surgery,” according to the Mayo Clinic.

Surgery to remove ear tubes is usually not necessary as they typically fall out on their own in about six to 18 months, depending on the type of tube used, said Nemours KidsHealth.

Consult your pediatrician if you think ear tubes will help your toddler with their ear infections.

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