As we enter the winter season, it is very common for children to develop recurrent episodes of ear infections, and invariably, parents begin to ask themselves, “Is it time for ear tubes?” There are several indications for placement of ear tubes, or ventilation tubes as we like to call them.
The first indication is for recurrent ear infections. Children who experience recurrent ear infections have multiple ear infections with periods in between of normal healthy ears. The indications for placement of ear tubes are for children who experience 7 or more infections in a given year, or 5 infections or more per year over a two year period. Placement of ventilation tubes allows for fluid to drain rather than accumulate behind the ear drum. The tubes also allow for treatment of the infections with ear drops rather than oral antibiotics which we all know can have long term consequences if used repeatedly.
The second indication is for children with persistent fluid within the middle ear (behind the ear drum). After an ear infection, some children have fluid within the middle ear that will not drain on its own. This is likely related to poor function of the eustachian tube (our natural drainage tube). The recommendations for placement of ear tubes are for children who have had fluid within the middle ear for three months or longer. Fluid within the middle ear causes a conductive type of hearing loss and also predisposes the child to developing acute infections. Placement of the tube allows the fluid to drain and aerates the middle ear allowing the child’s hearing to return to its normal level.
The above guidelines are just that, they are recommendations provided to us based on research and papers written over many years. As physicians, we use these guidelines to formulate recommendations for our patients. Not every patient meets the above criteria before we recommend intervention with placement of ear tubes. For example, if your child has experienced five ear infections this year and we are just entering the winter season, then we would certainly consider the option of placing tubes for that child. We always take careful histories and perform complete exams before providing our recommendations. Please feel free to contact us or schedule a visit if you have any further questions about surgery for your child’s ears.