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If your child is one who gets ear infection after ear infection, you might find yourself talking about ear tubes (if not, you should be at least talking about it and considering it with the doctor, so bring it up).
I would like to say this isn’t a decision to take lightly nor rush. For us, however, it was a pretty rushed decision. McKenna had infection on top of infection year round starting at 18 months. By age 2.5, he doctor said if things didn’t get better soon, we needed to consult with an ENT about tubes. We were at the point that I didn’t even need to call or make an appointment for McKenna to be seen, we could walk in and they would get us in there to check her ears. We got checked consistently to watch the infection and monitor it.
Well, things didn’t clear up. My doctor called the ENT and we were in the office the next day. My husband and I were about to head on out to Hawaii for 10 days, so if we were going to do it, we had to get it done soon. And turns out that meant the next day. I didn’t have the time you know I wanted to prepare for this surgery! No mental prep for McKenna (or myself!). No pre-shopping so we wouldn’t need anything during recovery. No researching this into the ground. It was here. I want to share some information about ear tubes here to help you decide if you want them or not, know what you might expect if you do, know what to do while you have the tubes, and what to do afterward.
TO TUBE OR NOT?
Ear tubes are great. They help drain the ear and keep infection from building up. This helps so the child can hear more clearly. This is very crucial during these young years during speech development. I’m not entirely sure how the ACA works, but it may even be covered there. Getting ear tubes:
- Helps ensure the child can hear clearly and can thus develop speech in a normal pattern.
- Helps prevent hearing loss that can be caused by having too much fluid on the ear too long.
- Helps children be calmer, happier, and more obedient. This happens because the child is no longer in constant pain and can hear again.
- Helps children sleep better since the pain of infection will be gone.
- Helps prevent infections (reduces the occurrence of infections).
- Helps with balance problems.
Sounds pretty awesome right? You might wonder why someone might not choose to get tubes in? Here are some possible complications;
- Anesthesia is always a risk. This is a quick, simple surgery, but there is always risk associated with anesthesia.
- Perforation. If the hole made by the tube does not heal, a permanent hole can be left behind. This has to be fixed by another surgery. This one is not so simple, and the healing process is quite a pain. The child is supposed to not move for weeks and not get water in the ears for even more weeks. Not an easy thing (my neighbor had this happen to her daughter). If this is not fixed, permanent hearing loss can occur.
- When an ear infection does happen, it is gross. The infection just flows out of the ear. Yeah. Gross. But in my opinion, this is just an annoyance and really shouldn’t weigh heavily on the decision. Just be aware of it.
- The tubes let water rush in and this can be highly unsettling, upsetting, and annoying to the child. McKenna hated being in anything other than warm water while she had tubes in.
- Timing the removal right is a gamble. If you take it out too soon, you might end up having to repeat the process. Take it out to late, and you are more likely to end up with a hole in the ear drum that won’t heal. To me, this is the biggest negative against the ear tubes.
Steps to Take Before Surgery
There are some things I would do before resorting to surgery and tubes.
- Consider what is causing the infections. Some ear infections can actually be caused by food allergies. If this is your child’s case, staying away from the food can be your problem solved rather than ear tubes. In McKenna’s case, the ENT found her tonsils were humongous when he was operating on her ears. This meant her surgery went from simple one-day recovery to a two week recovery as she got her tonsils out. Yeah. Not fun. I was definitely not prepared. But there was so much infection in those tonsils that her ears were in a perpetual state of infection, also. The thing here, however, is that you could try just removing the tonsils, but if that didn’t work, you would be going back in for surgery for tubes later.
- Steroids is an option for treating ear infections. This isn’t a step I wanted to take. I didn’t want the side effects of steroids going on.
- Chiropractor. Some people swear by going to a chiropractor to solve ear infections. Sometimes a misalignment can be the cause of the infections.
- Garlic oil and essential oils. You might find you can stave off the infections by using some homeopathic remedies.
My opinion here is if you can’t get the infection to go away, you need to go with the tubes. Being able to hear is crucial for these children in learning to talk. If I had it to do again, I would try the oils. I might even try a chiropractor. But if those didn’t work, I would do the tubes again.
WHAT IS THE SURGERY AND RECOVERY LIKE?
Every hospital has its different policies and procedures. The surgery itself is quite simple. It is outpatient. Your child will have anesthesia. There is a small incision made in the ear drum, the fluid is suctioned out, the tube is put in the incision hole, and your child is done. It is usually about 15 minutes long. If your child gets adenoid out at the same time, it can take a bit longer.
Your child will then be brought back to you and monitored in a recovery room for 1-2 hours. This experience will depend on what type of anesthesia child your child is. Some are groggy. Some are emotional. Some are right out angry (Brayden is an angry one).
Once you are home, you will spend the day just relaxing. You will likely have ear drops for a few days. I can’t tell you how much of an impact it had since we did tonsils that the same time. I can say the ears were a non-issue for her. But we did spend the day watching TV. Her throat was sore. I would plan on taking the day to just relax.
LIFE WITH TUBES
You won’t notice much with the tubes in a negative way. You will notice your child can hear immediately. You will notice your child is more pleasant and likely sleeps better. If your child gets an ear infection, you will notice the infection oozing out of the ear.
One thing we noticed was that McKenna didn’t like cold water. She didn’t mind her ears being in warm water, but she hated cold water. A lot of kids get ear plugs for water while they have tubes in.
You will want to make sure you go to your appointments with the doctor. We had a post-op appointment. We then had a 6 months post-op appointment. Then we went a year later. At that time, he told me to go in about 9-10 months to have them removed. At appointments, the doctor checks the tubes to make sure they are looking good and everything is fine.
Getting tubes removed was different than I envisioned from how it was described to me. Some tubes are designed to fall out naturally on their own. The kind McKenna had was one that needs to be removed. I was told it was done in the office and is easy. So I thought would be literally in the exam room using some tweezers. That is what I had McKenna prepared for.
The ENT actually has a room for procedures. They gave McKenna some medicine to get her to be relaxed. This was unnecessary–I had her very well prepared to sit still even if it hurt. I do wish I had been consulted about this before because I don’t think she needed it. On the flip side, however, if she didn’t hold still, there is a chance the hearing would be damaged, so I might have chosen the medicine just to be safe.
They then put her on the table and swaddled her in a giant sheet. Then a nurse leaned over her to hold her down (they must get some crazy things going on to go through so much effort to keep the child still). Then the doctor uses tweezers to pull the tubes out (they put them in a treasure box for McKenna). Then the doctor put a paper patch over the hole to help it heal. It was an easy procedure.
McKenna was unable to walk due to the medicine and we wheeled her to the car in a wheelchair. She then spent the rest of the day laying on the couch.
You are supposed to keep the ear dry for two weeks. This is also something I didn’t know before hand. If I had known, I would have scheduled it for a time of year other than early summer (hello swimming!). We survived. You go in at two weeks after the procedure to check and make sure things have healed well.
While McKenna was healing, she complained about her ear being sore and she was unable to pop her ears herself (you know when you switch altitudes in a plane? That happens a lot here just driving because of our mountain ranges). Her ENT said it takes time to learn to pop the ears on their own since with tubes they don’t have to do it.
Read more here: Ear Tubes