Recurrent Ear Infections in Children: When Is It Time to Get Tubes?

Recurrent Ear Infections in Children: When Is It Time to Get Tubes?

Besides the common cold, one of the most prevalent conditions in children is ear infections. Five out of six children will experience at least one ear infection by age three. So, it's no wonder doctors encounter so many cases yearly. Children are more susceptible to this type of infection, to the extent that it often recurs repeatedly.

The course of treatment will vary, often starting with the "wait-and-see" approach and progressing to antibiotic therapies, pain management, and, of course, an ear tube procedure. This can leave many parents questioning which treatment is best for their child and why the infection keeps occurring.

Recurrent Ear Infections in Children: When Is It Time to Get Tubes?

What Is an Ear Infection?

An ear infection is exactly what it sounds like: an infection of the middle ear. This infection often affects children between six months and two years but remains common until around eight. This is partly due to the eustachian tubes, the canals connecting the middle ear to the back of the throat. Children's Eustachian tubes don't function as effectively as those in adults, which can result in fluid accumulation in the ear and raise the risk of infection.

However, a young immune system can also be at fault. A child's immune system is less developed than an adult's, making it less equipped to fight infections. Furthermore, children are more likely to catch illnesses from other children with developing immune systems. They just seem to spread viruses around.

If not that, then the adenoids could be causing the problem. The two glands between the back of the nose and the throat are very close to the eustachian tubes. Inflammation or swelling of the adenoidal tissue can block the eustachian tubes, increasing the risk of infection.

In other words, an ear tube procedure is rarely, if ever, the first treatment option. Your doctor will want to determine the exact cause of the infection, understand the scope of symptoms, and monitor the condition before prescribing treatment.

How Can I Tell If My Child Has an Ear Infection?

Like many conditions, the symptoms of an ear infection will vary from one child to the next, but they often include one or more of the following:

  • Ear pain
  • Headache
  • Trouble hearing
  • Drainage from the ear (either white, yellow, or brown)

Many children are unable to distinguish whether they have an ear infection, so it's generally up to the parents to pay attention to some of the more common signs, such as:

  • Fussiness
  • Crying more than usual
  • Tugging or rubbing the ears
  • Fever (100.5°F to 104°F)
  • Mouth breathing
  • Changes in snoring
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of balance
  • Not responding to sound

When to Visit the Doctor

It's always best to obtain an accurate diagnosis when it comes to anything affecting a child's health. If you suspect your child has an ear infection, schedule an appointment with a doctor or pediatrician—especially if your child's symptoms have persisted for more than a day or are under six months old. The same would be true if your child has trouble sleeping, seems unusually irritable after a cold or illness, or is experiencing ear discharge.

When to Get Tubes in Ears of My Child?

Your doctor will be critical in determining when to get tubes in your ear. Often, they'll want to monitor the condition first, as ear infections will clear up on their own. If everything is clear and the infection is mild, the doctor may ask you to wait up to three days before prescribing a treatment. In the case of a severe infection, the doctor will likely prescribe antibiotics. They may also want to check if the infection has led to an eardrum rupture, which may require a different surgical procedure called a tympanoplasty.

If no improvements are seen with antibiotics or if fluid buildup is causing hearing loss, the doctor will likely recommend a myringotomy (i.e., tubes in ears surgery). This outpatient procedure includes making a small incision in your child's eardrum, through which a small metal or plastic tube is placed to ventilate the ear and facilitate fluid drainage.

Typically, tubes in baby's ears will remain in place for six to 12 months before naturally falling out, which is considered normal. Occasionally, a surgeon may need to remove the tubes, but this procedure is also outpatient.

If you have any additional questions about ear infections or if it's the right time for your child to have ear tubes, the ENT of Georgia South team would be happy to discuss your options. Contact us today for more information or to schedule an appointment.

We Want To

Hear From you

Contact Us

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.