Ear tubes 301: How to care for a child’s ears after ventilation tube surgery

Children's Health

by Baylor Scott & White Health

Sep 6, 2021

Your child has been experiencing persistent ear infections, and you have consulted with your pediatrician or an otolaryngologist. They recommended ventilation tubes (also called ear tubes), which ventilate the middle ear so that infection has a minimal chance of recurring.

So, you decided that your child should have the surgery and those little spool-shaped tubes have been placed in her eardrums. Now what do you do?

Do children with ventilation tubes require any special care?

The only special care would be water precautions, said David Randall Pinkston, MD, an otolaryngologist on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White – Temple. Parents need to be careful about water getting into their child’s ears once the tubes have been placed. He recommends that children avoid water contamination from:

  • Bathtubs
  • Pools
  • Lakes
  • Any other body of water

Bathing infants with ventilation tubes may pose a challenge, but there are ways to do it.

“Wash your baby’s head until soapy and then put your hand over her little ear and fold it down to rinse her head off,” Dr. Pinkston said. “You may use an earplug if you wish.”

For older children who want to be active in a pool or at the beach, he suggests asking your child’s doctor about earplugs or headbands that can help protect the ear canal.

How long do the tubes last?

The tubes stay in roughly six to eight months. They generally attach themselves to a piece of earwax and fall out on their own. If they don’t, surgery may be required to remove them to avoid future problems.

What happens if I don’t get ear tubes for my child?

“The natural history of an ear infection before we had tubes was you got inflammation, oftentimes with viruses or bacteria that involve the middle ear,” Dr. Pinkston said. “Fluid accumulates, which turns into purulence, or pus.”

That pus will cause pressure to build up inside your child’s ear.

“It’s excruciatingly painful when that process is happening,” he said. “That’s usually when the child runs a fever, they’re crying and all that. And then it pops, it ruptures, it drains, and the child feels better.”

That’s nature’s way of taking care of it, Dr. Pinkston said. But….

“If the child is going to go through that every month through her infant years, or through the first few years, it would be better to ventilate the ear so that infection has a minimal chance of occurring,” he said, “Fluid won’t even develop if the ear’s ventilated. It’s a way of improving quality of life.”

Think your child might need ear tubes? Talk to your child’s doctor or find an ENT doctor near you.

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