What to Expect When Your Child Needs Tubes

Our daughter had all the signs of teething. Runny nose, drool, slight crankiness, not the best sleep. She was happy, however, and so we thought nothing of it. After 2 months, she was still acting the same, but she had cut 2 teeth. Then, during a diaper change, I noticed a lot of clear fluid coming out of her ear with a slight orange tint. Later that drainage had turned opaque. I called and scheduled an appointment for the next morning.

I’m not a fan of band-aid medicine, and I expressed my concern about unnecessary antibiotics to the doctor, since ear infections are often viral. The pediatrician told me that viral ear infections will generally clear up in three days, so he asked to see me again in two days and if the ear was looking a bit better, we would avoid antibiotics. I appreciated this (especially since I didn’t want to risk yeast with our cloth diapers), and took my daughter home.

Unfortunately, the ear infection got worse and she got antibiotics. She didn’t miss a single dose, finished them, and at the follow-up her ears had no change. We were given the option of a stronger antibiotic, or seeing an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist. Our daughter has never passed a hearing test in her right ear, and we were due to see the ENT that month anyway, so we opted for that route. Due to her history (hearing) and the ear infection that had likely been persistent for a couple of months, we scheduled her for tubes.

She went in for tubes the day she turned 9 months old with a very active ear infection. She was allowed nothing to eat or drink for 6 hours prior to the surgery because of the anesthetic, and that was especially difficult for us since we bed-share. I fed her at the latest possible time, but she woke up about 90 minutes later wanting milk, so it ended up being a long morning.

What to Expect When Your Child Needs Tubes

One important thing to note that I wish I was told before her procedure is this: If your child goes under general anesthesia upset, they will wake up the same way. She was bawling and inconsolable. Nursing only helped a bit, and she would break latch to scream. I felt like the worst parent in the world,  thinking that it was my fault because she was in pain (she wasn’t). As we left, she cried all the way to the car. She fell asleep before we left the parking lot and slept for 3 hours. She woke up happy as could be, like nothing had ever even happened.


The ‪eustachian tube, which drains the fluid in the middle ear, is more at a horizontal level in
infants and is more at a vertical angle in older toddlers/children and adults. As children grow, the ear infections usually lessen as the eustachian tube moves more and opens up more to allow more drainage. Sometimes a child has too many issues to wait for this to happen naturally, and tubes are recommended.Nobody likes their baby to feel unwell, much less think of their baby going through any surgical procedure (no matter how minor). Unfortunately, sometimes procedures are necessary. Having tubes placed in a child’s ear(s) is a very common practice for both recurring ear infections (6 or more in a year), and for fluid build-up that could be causing hearing loss.

 

Most of the risks involved with getting tubes are really associated with the anesthesia and not the actual tubes themselves. Risks of the tubes could be minor scarring on the eardrum, the eardrum not closing after the procedure (or after the tubes eventually come out), and bleeding or infection (as with any incision).

Tubes have been frequently over-prescribed (just like many other things such as antibiotics), but can be very useful when actually needed. Always ask your doctor or specialist if you have any questions or concerns.

We had to start antibiotics again (due to the active infection), as well as putting the drops in her ears after the procedure, but everything has been great ever since! So far she has had no more infections and her one bad infection cleared up. We don’t know if this will help her pass a hearing test yet, but the ENT wants to wait a few months before we test her again.

Christine Kangas

 

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