Expert information provided by Eric Mair, MD, of Charlotte Eye Ear Nose & Throat Associates, P.A.
Every parent knows how ear aches can be an irritating problem for their child, but the fact is: every child gets them. Some, however, get them more so than others. Most ear aches are resolved on their own or are effectively treated with antibiotics, but sometimes, ear infections become a chronic problem leading to other issues such as hearing loss or behavior and speech problems. When ear aches become too much of a recurring issue, one possible treatment can be the insertion of ear tubes by an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat specialist).
The tubes themselves, invented by Dr. Beverly Armstrong of Charlotte Eye Ear Nose & Throat Associates in 1954, are tiny cylinders made out of various materials and may have a coating intended to reduce infection. These tubes come in two different uses: short term and long term. Short-term ear tubes are smaller and usually are in place for six months to a year. Long-term ear tubes are generally longer and have flanges that secure them in place for a longer period of time. Both types of ear tubes can fall out on their own, but long-term tubes may need to be removed by an otolaryngologist.
Each year, more than half a million ear tube surgeries are performed on children, making it the most common childhood surgery performed with anesthesia. Through an outpatient surgical procedure, the tubes are inserted into the patient’s ear drum through a small hole under microscopic vision. The whole procedure lasts roughly 15 minutes, and patients generally awaken quickly.
With the tube in place, the small incision remains open which allows air to reach the middle ear. This gives added ventilation to the patient’s ear. The added ventilation effectively treats the risk of future ear infection, restores hearing loss due to fluid in the middle ear, improves speech and balance problems and improves behavior and sleep problems caused by chronic ear infections.
After the procedure, your otolaryngologist will provide you and your child with some post-operative instructions. He or she may also prescribe antibiotic ear drops for a few days in order to reduce the risk of infection. It will also be recommended that you keep the ears dry by using ear plugs or other water-tight devices to avoid the possibility of bacteria entering the middle ear through the ventilation tube. Recently, physicians have found that ear plugs are really only needed in waters like lakes and oceans; swimming in chlorinated water is perfectly fine with ear tubes.
As with all procedures, even with one as common and safe as this, there is the possibility of minor complications. Those include:
• Persistent perforation of the ear drum. This rarely occurs when tubes come out, but can be patched through a surgical procedure called a tympanoplasty or myringoplasty.
• Scarring of the ear drum. This usually occurs after repeated ear tube procedures. This usually causes no problems to the ear or hearing.
• Infection of the ear. Infections can still occur with ear tubes; however they are usually far less frequent and easier to treat.
• The ear tubes come out too early or stay in too long. If the tubes come out too early, they usually will be reinserted through another procedure. If the tubes remain in the ear for too long, an otolaryngologist may need to remove them manually.
If your child experiences chronic inner ear infections, balance issues and/or other complications from recurring inner ear infections speak with your child’s pediatrician about ear tube procedures and scheduling an appointment with an otolaryngologist at Charlotte Eye Ear Nose & Throat Associates, P.A.
For more information on ear tubes, check out the following links:
American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery – Ear Tubes
WebMd – Tubes for Ear Infections
Charlotte Eye Ear Nose & Throat Associates – Ear Tube Surgery