Ear infections are hard on everyone in the family. The pain can make your kid crabby, and that can in turn put everyone else on edge. If your child has been in an on-again, off-again relationship with ear infections, your doctor may have suggested ear tube insertion. But can your kid still get an ear infection with tubes? And if so, what might the treatment options look like?
How Do Ear Tubes Work?
Ear tubes (also called tympanovstomy tubes) allow the fluid accumulated inside the middle ear to drain out. “When that fluid can’t accumulate in the middle ear, that often creates a less hospitable environment for bacteria to accumulate,” explains Dr. Christina Johns, Medical Director at PM Pediatrics. “And that usually means kids get fewer ear infections.”
More fully developed eustachian tubes (the canals that link the middle ear with the back of the nose) allow fluid to drain better from the ears naturally. Eustachian tubes generally reach optimal development to prevent ear infections by age 5. But until then, your pediatrician may refer you to an Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist if they are concerned that your child is getting ear infections too frequently.
Can My Kid Still Get An Ear Infection With Tubes?
Artificial tubes can help, but they will not render your child’s eustachian tubes invincible. “Sometimes, they can get clogged. And if there’s any reason that the fluid can accumulate or build back up in the middle ear, then the chance for infection increases,” explains Dr. Johns. And since the tubes typically fall out on their own as the child’s ear canals grow, they may fall out before optimal fluid drainage is possible without tubes.
Dr. Johns sympathizes with parents and kids for whom ear infections are a nagging struggle. “Unfortunately, some people just have bad luck in the ear infection department,” she says. “Sometimes those tubes need to be reinserted. And that’s okay. The good news is that ultimately, even if it’s a struggle bus of a journey, kids typically will grow out of that phase and do very well.”
How Are Ear Infections With Tubes Treated?
Dr. Johns emphasizes that it is essential to consult your physician quickly if your child is experiencing ear pain, drainage, or other symptoms associated with ear infections. Due to the long-term implications on a child’s hearing and speech development, as well as the equipment and expertise it takes to diagnose ear issues, it’s wise to take a cautious approach to ear health.
That being said, Dr. Johns notes that doctors will take varying approaches to monitor and treat your child depending on what they see in their inner ear. “Some doctors will tend to use the watch and wait method if the child has other symptoms that are typical of a viral infection,” she says. Clear nasal discharge or dry cough may signal that the child has an upper respiratory infection or viral cold that simply requires close monitoring.
“But if I look into the ear and it’s really red and angry with a ton of cloudy pus drainage, then I would be more likely to think it’s a bacterial superinfection that requires antibiotics,” Dr. Johns continues. “Unfortunately, there’s no big, fabulous magic trick for parents. This is really the kind of scenario where a clinician who knows what they’re doing and who’s seen a lot of ears should be consulted.”
It can be frustrating to manage ear health and challenging to parent your child through the physical pain with the additional repercussions ear infections can cause. But it’s worth the effort in the long run, and is truly just a short phase in a child’s overall life.