Should my toddler have ear tubes inserted to prevent ear infections?

The inner ear is full of air and is connected to the outside through the eustachian tube that opens into the back of your mouth. Young children have narrow eustachian tubes that can close and fill with fluid that causes ear pressure and pain. If your doctor sees fluid causing the ear drum to bulge outward, he knows that the eustachian tube is closed and often prescribes antibiotics and a cortisone-type nasal spray. Antihistamines do not open eustachian tubes. Doctors sometimes remove tonsils and adenoids or give allergy injections, but these treatments have an extraordinarily high failure rate.

Since the eustachian tube enlarges as a child grows, the tube usually opens by itself in time and it is rarely necessary to perform surgery. However, if the doctor feels that fluid in the drum can interfere with a child's hearing or school work or that permanent damage in possible, it is reasonable to relieve this pressure by punching a hole in the ear drum and inserting a tube to keep it open. Research shows that the buildup of fluid in the inner ear is probably caused by inactive cilia, the small hairs that line the eustachian tube and sweep fluid toward the mouth. Erythromycin antibiotics can stimulate the cilia, remove fluid from the inner ear and help to relieve the discomfort.

March 1, 2006

Get our newsletter