Every year more than 500,000 children in the U.S. have surgery to insert ear tubes. It’s the most common childhood surgery that’s performed using anesthesia.

There are two main reasons children need ear tubes:

  1. Recurring ear infections of the middle ear
  2. Fluid in the ear that doesn’t drain

Persistent fluid in the ear can cause permanent hearing loss. It’s most common for children ages 4-6 to need ear tubes due to fluid in the ear. Younger kids, 15 months-3 years more often need the surgery for recurring ear infections. 80% of the children who undergo ear tube surgery will need them only once.

There are several types of ear tubes but the most commonly used are grommets and T-tubes. Grommets help the middle ear to maintain normal pressure and will decrease fluid production. They fall out naturally in 6-24 months. T-tubes are permanent and are more frequently placed with children who have needed several sets of grommets or whose anatomy suggests they would benefit from long-term intervention.

The actual procedure to insert ear tubes takes only 10-20 minutes and is usually performed outpatient. Typically children feel normal again the same day and don’t notice the tubes at all. What you will notice is fewer ear infections and better hearing.

If your child has recurring ear infections or you notice that s/he isn’t hearing as well as s/he used to, your primary care pediatrician may refer you to an ear, nose and throat doctor to identify whether your child would benefit from ear tubes.

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