When Does My Child Need Ear Tubes?

Michael T. Cecil, MD, FACS, Lexington Clinic Otolaryngologist

Acute otitis media (middle ear infection) is one of the most common infections in childhood. In the U.S., approximately 70% of children experience acute ear infection prior to their second birthday. Risk factors predisposing this age group to ear infections include daycare attendance, bottle feeding (no history of breast-feeding), allergy and tobacco smoke contact. Obstruction of the eustachian tube is typically the ultimate factor that results in an ear infection.

Ear tubes are commonly placed to bypass the dysfunction or obstruction of the eustachian tube. We generally consider placing ear tubes if your child has had repeated ear infections over a short period of time. Occasionally, a child will have fluid behind the eardrum that will persist for several months after an acute ear infection has resolved. If this fluid persists for up to 3 months, tubes are recommended as well.

Placement of ear tubes is typically a well tolerated procedure. In children, it is performed under general anesthesia, which is quite safe. The tubes typically remain in place for around 12 months, and most children experience a complete resolution in recurrent ear infections while the tubes are in place.