Does My Child Need Ear Tubes?   

Does My Child Need Ear Tubes?

Otorhinolaryngologist examines a little girl's ear with an otoscope.
Clinical Contributors to this story:
Michael Chee, M.D.

Ear infections are one of the most common infections in kids—they’re painful, can cause difficulty sleeping or hearing, and are all around no fun for kids or parents. 

“When ear infections are a chronic occurrence, they become especially difficult to manage,” says Michael Chee, M.D., pediatric otolaryngologist at Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital at Hackensack University Medical Center. “One option to consider in these cases is ear tube surgery.”

Dr. Chee weighs in on what ear tube surgery achieves and when it is recommended.

What Are Ear Tubes?

Ear tubes, also known as tympanostomy tubes, are small, hollow, cylindrical devices that are surgically placed in the eardrum to help drain fluid that has built up behind the eardrum. The tube stays in place for a few months to a few years, depending on the individual and the reason for the tube placement.

While ear tubes reduce the risk of ear infections, they don’t fully prevent them from occurring. “But when tubes are placed, an ear infection can be treated with antibiotic ear drops rather than oral antibiotics,” Dr. Chee says. “The drops have fewer possible side effects, which is a benefit.”

4 Signs Your Child Might Need Ear Tubes

Ear tubes are recommended when a child has recurrent middle ear infections, when there is a persistent fluid build-up behind the eardrum, or if a child has a complication from a middle ear infection.

Your doctor might recommend ear tube surgery if your child has:

  1. Three or more ear infections within six months 
  2. Four or more infections within a year 
  3. Hearing loss due to fluid buildup
  4. Speech problems as a result of fluid buildup

Ear tubes are not usually a medical emergency, so some parents may choose not to get them. “If a child doesn’t have additional risk factors, parents might opt to wait and allow their child to grow out of the ear infection stage,” Dr. Chee says. “But we do strongly recommend them for children experiencing hearing loss or speech concerns, or who have an increased risk of developmental difficulties.”

What to Expect With Ear Tube Surgery

Ear tube surgery is usually an outpatient procedure that takes about 10–15 minutes. General anesthesia is used, and the child will not be awake during the procedure. A small incision is made in the eardrum, and the ear tube is inserted. 

“After the procedure, the child will need to rest and take it easy for the rest of the day,” says Chee doctor. “Most kids can return to normal activities the next day.”

After the surgery, your child may experience some discomfort or mild pain. Over-the-counter pain medication can help relieve any discomfort. Your child will also need to keep their ears dry for a few days after the surgery to prevent infection.

“Ear tubes usually stay in place for 6–18 months before falling out on their own,” says Chee doctor. “Some kids might require a second set to be placed at some point if the same ear issues persist.” 

Next Steps & Resources:

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.


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