How-One-Procedure-Can-Save-Your-Son-or-Daughter-from-Childhood-Ear-InfectionsDid you know that otitis media, also known as a middle ear infection, is the most common pediatric illness treated by ENTs? In fact, 3 out of 4 children will have an ear infection by the time they are 3 years old. While many children recover with no complications, otitis media can cause permanent hearing loss if it is left untreated. Hearing loss hinders learning ability and can even impede speech development. The severe pain associated with ear infections causes children—and their parents—distress. 

Thankfully, timely and effective treatment can stop the pain and almost always restore hearing.

Because antibiotic-resistant bacteria are becoming more prevalent, antibiotics are not always successful when treating ear infections. If your child doesn’t respond to this treatment, ear tubes may be recommended.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, some children are at greater risk of developing otitis media with effusion, Eustachian tube dysfunction, or persistent acute otitis media.

This includes children who:

  • Are 2 years old or younger
  • Attend daycare
  • Drink from a bottle while laying down
  • Are exposed to air pollution 
  • Are frequently around secondhand smoke

These “ear tubes” are also called PE tubes or pressure equalization tubes. These are placed during a procedure called a myringotomy.  This minor surgery can keep your child from experiencing chronic ear infections throughout childhood and can save his or her hearing.


What are ear tubes and what happens during a myringotomy?

Ear tubes are small tubes that drain fluid from the middle ear, alieving pressure. They are inserted during a surgical procedure called a myringotomy with tube placement. 

During this procedure, a small opening is made in the eardrum and the tiny tubes are inserted. The tubes serve as a stent, allowing trapped fluid to leave the ear.  They also prevent fluid buildup, minimizing the chance of another ear infection. 

Brief general anesthesia is needed for tube placement in children. Sometimes, adults need a myringotomy, in which case the procedure may be performed in office by using drops to numb the eardrum.

Your child can’t feel the tubes, but he or she will feel significant relief from the fluid pressure.
You may also find your child’s hearing has improved.  The tubes stay in place for approximately ten months and then fall out on their own. Ear drainage may occur after surgery.

You’ll find that a myringotomy with tube placement decreases the frequency of ear infections. This not only saves your child a lot of ear pain, but it also saves his or her hearing---chronic ear infections can cause hearing damage.

A myringotomy is a safe procedure---in general, patients are fully recovered by the afternoon. Other benefits include a decreased need for antibiotics to treat infections, cost savings and fewer doctor visits.
Any post-surgical pain is usually well-controlled by over-the-counter medicines.  While your child can bathe, shower and swim --- earplugs are recommended if your child plans to dive deeper than two feet underwater. Your Raleigh Capitol ENT pediatric otolargynologist will be happy to answer any questions.   

There are four main reasons ear tubes are placed:


Recurrent otitis media (middle ear infections)

This is the most common reason for ear tube placement for children between the ages of 1 and 6 years old. If your child is having 5 or more infections per year, tubes should be considered.

Persistent acute otitis media (AOM)

This type of middle ear infection is often caused by bacteria that enter the ears as a result of a respiratory infection, the common cold, or allergies. During these illnesses, the Eustachian tube is often swollen and inflamed. This tube leads from the middle ear to the back of the nose. It not only regulates pressure, but it also drains mucus from the middle ear. 

When it’s swollen, the fluid can’t drain, causing it to build up behind the eardrum.  This trapped fluid can impair your child’s hearing.

Otitis media with effusion (OME)

It’s common for fluid to remain in the middle ear for several weeks after an infection. However, if fluid is present for more than 3 months, ear tubes may be recommended.

Eustachian tube dysfunction

This tube leads from the middle ear to the back of the nose and drains mucus, as well as regulating pressure. If the tube is swollen or irritated, it’s unable to drain fluid from the middle ear. Because it takes the Eustachian tube longer to mature, infants to 6-year-olds do not have a fully developed Eustachian tube. 

Chronic Eustachian tube problems can prompt the need for ear tubes. 


Only your ENT or pediatrician can determine if antibiotics are necessary --- and often they aren’t.

It’s important to only use antibiotics when they are needed. In general, antibiotics are typically NOT used to fight OME. It usually goes away on its own. Remember, it can take the fluid a while to leave the ear---sometimes a month or longer! 

How can you tell if your child has an ear infection?

Ear infections are one of the most common childhood illnesses, occurring even in infants. Often, children this young aren’t able to communicate what is causing them pain. So how can you tell if your baby or young child has an ear infection? Look for these signs: 

  • Pulling at ears
  • Excessive crying
  • Fluid draining from ears
  • Problems with hearing
  • Irritability, especially with infants and toddlers
  • Difficulty balancing
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Fever
  • Headache

Chronic ear infections are one of the most common conditions affecting children. Not only are they painful, but they can also cause long-term hearing damage. It’s always best to speak with a local ENT. 


Centers for Disease Control. “Common Illnesses: Ear Infection.” Online. 

National Institute of Health.
U.S. Library of Medicine.