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Tips on Deciding (With Your Pediatrician) Whether Ear Tubes are Right for Your Child


Ear tubes became common in the 1970s for children who had recurring ear infections. The belief in the medical community was that when fluid remained in the middle ear after treatment for an ear infection, a child could face impaired hearing and problems with speech, learning and behavior.

Ear tubes are still popular. About 700,000 thousand children in the United States still receive them. But the results of some studies have shown that fewer children may really need ear tubes, and that ear tubes may actually make things worse in some cases. It seems that for otherwise healthy children, fluid that lingers in the ear for several months after an ear infection may have no long-term effects at all. There may be some short-term mild- to-moderate healing loss, but children generally catch up with their peers as the fluid eventually drains.

Here are some recommendations from the experts in this field:

  • Children should be considered candidates for ear tube insertion surgery if the fluid lingers for four months or longer and if their hearing loss is 40 decibels or more.
  • Children with fluid that lingers four months or longer who do not have a 40 decibel hearing loss (or worse) should undergo "watchful waiting," having assessments every three to six months.
  • When children have fluid problems, but not serious hearing loss, parents can take the following steps to compensate for temporary hearing loss:
    Speak closely to your child
    Face your child when speaking to him or her
    Keep your patience when your child asks you to repeat your words
    Ask teachers to allows your child to sit at the front in the classroom

    American Academy of Pediatrics; Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, December 2005; New England Journal of Medicine, August 2005; Pediatrics, October 2002; New York Times, "Ear Infection? Think Twice Before Inserting a Tube," 15 August 2006
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