Ear infections of the middle ear (otitis media) in children are painful, disruptive, and cause a large degree of distress in the household. Generally speaking, recurrent ear infections are defined as three or more incidences of infection in a six month period, or four or more over the course of a year.
Ear infections stem from a fluid buildup in the ear, which causes inflammation and infection within the ear. Children typically complain of pain, ‘clogging’ in the ear, and can develop fevers from these infections. A hearing loss may also accompany the infection.
Treatment for ear infections includes antibiotics, but in some cases antibiotics may not be adequate. Children with severe cases of recurring infections or prolonged fluid in the middle ear may benefit from surgical insertion of drainage tubes in order to provide relief. This procedure is commonly referred to as “ear tubes”, though doctors sometimes refer to the procedure by its clinical name, myringotomy. When this procedure is appropriate, a small tube is placed in the eardrum, forming a drain for the fluid buildup and a way to ventilate the middle ear back to health. This procedure is normally done safely as an outpatient procedure, and the recovery is rapid. The tubes generally fall out naturally, but occasionally need to be removed once they have served their purpose.
Your doctor can speak with you comprehensively about the benefits and risks of myringotomy tubes in relieving severe recurrent ear infections or hearing loss due to prolonged middle ear fluid.