It's normal for your child to get an ear infection at some point, and while it won’t be pleasant, it’s often nothing to worry about. Sometimes, though, ear infections can be serious — and it might be time to consider ear tube surgery.
“Ear tubes work because they’re basically a drainage pathway and prevent the accumulation of fluid,” says Dr. Jessica Lee of Charleston ENT and Allergy. “It doesn’t mean kids will never have another ear infection, but they’ll be much less painful and we’ll be able to treat them a lot easier.”
Ear tubes are most commonly used to treat chronic ear infections in children under the age of five. Here are three signs it might be time for your child to get ear tubes.
1. Their Ear Infections Clear Up — but Then Come Back
“One realm for ear tubes is frequent and separate ear infections,” Dr. Lee says. “So the child has an ear infection, and it resolves completely, then comes back again the next month, and then again next month.”
According to Dr. Lee, the general guideline for acute recurrent ear infections is more than three infections in six months or more than five in one year.
Once a child has ear tubes, he or she could still get ear infections, but they’ll be much less painful because pressure won’t build up.
2. Fluid Behind the Eardrum Is Not Resolving on Its Own
“This is a major concern because it can cause hearing loss, and can cause changes to the eardrum or middle ear that can lead to scar tissue formation,” Dr. Lee says.
Hearing loss is a major concern in young children because it's such a major part of their development. “We want them to hear as well as possible so they can develop normal language skills. That’s when they’re learning words and articulation—how to say each consonant and vowel,” Dr. Lee says. She adds that it’s especially important to consider ear tubes if your child already has a developmental delay.
3. They Have One Infection That Lingers for Months
If your child has had an infection for a few months that won't clear up with antibiotics, it could be time for tubes. After that, infections can be treated with ear drops rather than oral antibiotics avoiding some unwanted side effects.
Typically, the youngest age for ear tubes is 6 months. If children experience ear infections or fluid buildup before that age, the doctors like to give it some time to clear up on its own. Dr. Lee says ear tube surgery is a gentle, low risk procedure, and your child will be back to their normal self within 24 hours.
All 11 Charleston ENT & Allergy clinics accept evaluation appointments for ear tubes, and all the physicians have experience with ear tube surgery. For more information or to schedule an appointment with Charleston ENT & Allergy, call (843) 766-7103 or visit CharlestonENT.com.
Dr. Jessica Lee joined Charleston ENT and Allergy in 2016. Dr. Lee graduated Summa Cum Laude from Mississippi State University in 2004 and received her medical training at the University of Mississippi School of Medicine where she graduated Magna Cum Laude. She continued her residency training in Otolaryngology- Head & Neck Surgery in Charleston at MUSC.