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Last updated:
04/09/2021

The answer to this question is not always a cut and dry. Doctors have been debating the use of ear tubes for years, and now there are new studies that give us more insight into how they affect people’s quality of life. We know that many children will get ear infections, but what if there was an alternative?

What causes ear infection?

Ear infections can be caused by a number of different things: allergies, colds, clogged ears from swimming or to protect your child from loud noises. When your child is sick with an infection in their ears they might complain about having trouble hearing or feel pain in their head when swallowing or chewing food.
For many years, doctors have recommended ear tubes to solve the problem of frequent ear infections. But did you know that there is a way to help prevent the infections? Doctors recommend keeping your child’s adenoids and tonsils out of their nose and throat. This can be done with nasal sponges, breathing strips (like Breathe Right) or having your child sleep with his or her head elevated.

Do Ear tubes cause discomfort?

In order to place a tube in your child’s ear, he or she will need to feel general anesthesia, which means they will be very sleepy and possibly dizzy when they wake. Some children may experience pain for a few days after the surgery.
If your child has tubes put in, he or she will need to wear earplugs when swimming and doing other activities where water can get into their ears. You will also need to clean your child’s ears every day with rubbing alcohol and cotton balls.

What is the risks and benefits of ear tubes?

The benefit of ear tubes is that they can relieve pressure, fluid buildup and sometimes even hearing loss due to recurring infections. The negative aspect is that once you have tubes, they do not go away unless there are complications or your child has a tube related illness.
Ear tubes are not always the right choice. If your child only has occasional ear infections, it is worth looking into natural treatments like nasal sponges instead of tubes to see if this will alleviate the issue.

In children with frequent ear infections, does the insertion of tympanostomy tubes improve school outcomes?

A systematic review and meta-analysis. Consistent evidence from well-conducted studies shows that surgical placement of tympanostomy tubes (TTs) in children with frequent otitis media (OM) improves school outcomes by reducing absences and improving educational achievement. TTs do not appear to reduce behavioral or social problems and have no effect on quality of life in children with recurrent OM.
Some evidence from case-control studies suggests that TTs may decrease the risk of long-term psycho-social impairment and the need for special education in children with severe OM.
The effectiveness of TTs in reducing hearing loss is less certain. Overall, good quality evidence shows that medically fitted TTs have a favorable benefit/risk profile for school outcomes (Level A). However, only moderate quality evidence shows that medically fitted TTs improve hearing (Level C). High quality evidence is needed to determine whether or not TTs improve long-term complications of entry into mainstream society, educational achievement and/or need for special education.

Confused about taking the decision tube or no tube? Is there an alternative to ear tubes? Try now our interactive tool to compare your options How to treat fluid buildup in the middle ear