Middle ear infections are common in children, especially in toddlers between the ages of six months and two years. Environmental factors and lifestyle factors can increase your child’s risk of developing middle ear infections. While antibiotics can help clear up many infections, recurrent middle ear infections in your toddler may require the use of ear tubes.
According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology, most children have at least one ear infection by the age of five years. Otitis media is the medical term for an infection within the cavity behind the eardrum. During an infection, fluid fills this cavity, often causing pain, pressure and a decrease in hearing.
Certain factors, such as exposure to secondhand smoke, enrollment in day care or taking a bottle to bed, can increase your toddler’s risk of ear infections. While many middle ear infections clear up on their own, others require the use of antibiotics. Toddlers who experience multiple middle ear infections or show delays in speech development or evidence of hearing loss may be candidates for ear tube surgery.
Tympanostomy tubes, commonly called ear tubes, are small cylinders made from metal or plastic. Placed in your toddler’s eardrum, these tiny tubes help to drain fluid from his middle ear while equalizing the pressure between his outer ear and his middle ear. Tubes intended for short-term use usually fall out on their own after about six months to one year. An otolaryngologist may need to remove long-term tubes, although sometimes before the scheduled removal date.
A myringotomy is the surgical procedure that places the tubes into your child’s ears. She may receive a general anesthesia for this surgery. During this outpatient procedure, a doctor makes a small incision in your child’s eardrum with a surgical microscope, laser or small scalpel. The ear tube goes inside this small hole to keep it from healing shut. The entire procedure may be over within 10 to 15 minutes.
Following the surgery, your toddler might want to rest for the remainder of the day. Most children resume their normal activities within 24 hours. While the tubes are in his ears, you may need to keep his ears dry by inserting earplugs prior to bathing or swimming. Your child’s surgeon may prescribe antibiotic eardrops to use for the first few days following the myringotomy. After insertion, parents often notice their children’s hearing improves and they have fewer ear infections.