So your child needs ear tubes. Did you know that 500,000 children each year get tubes in their ears? I didn’t, but learning that statistic when the pediatric ENT told us our one-year-old needed ear tubes brought me some comfort to a scary and unknown situation.
But let’s back up a bit.
My son Miles was born at risk for hearing loss due to family history. My history. I was born with a birth defect called microtia that can cause hearing loss (and it has for me—I have no hearing in my left ear). Miles had no indication of hearing loss during his newborn hearing screening in the hospital, but at nine months he had to have an additional screening. This can also be standard in some doctor’s offices, so don’t be alarmed if this happens to you. It’s better to do the quick screening than pass over it.
Then came the nine month screening, and Miles didn’t pass. We were referred to an audiologist, where it the doctor thought that Miles had fluid in his ears. We came back 8 weeks later to see if that fluid had cleared. And it hadn’t. So we went to a pediatric ENT who looked in his ears and said that he needed tubes. They needed to clear out fluid that had become gelatinous and insert tubes to keep them clear.
What are ear tubes?
Ear tubes are very small literal tubes that are inserted into the ear drum to allow air to ventilate which helps keep ears more clear. Learn the history of ear tubes here! Your child might need tubes because they have recurrent ear infections caused by infected fluid behind the ear drum. Antibiotics treat ear infections, but if they happen often, tubes can be another way that help decrease the amount of those infections.
Or, like in our case, ear infections may not be happening, but fluid build up that isn’t draining can change form and prevent the ear drum from functioning as it needs to in order to hear clearly. The audiologist and ENT said that Miles was probably hearing in the way the adults in the Peanuts cartoons talk, and that tubes would alleviate that. Tubes would improve his hearing and help prevent issues with hearing and talking later.
Going with surgery
I was a bit scared once we decided to move forward with the surgery. It’s a surgery, and my son was just over a year old when it was scheduled. He’d have to go under anesthesia and fast before the surgery. We wouldn’t be with him during the procedure, although we’d be there as soon as he moved into the recovery room. But it was scary thinking about my little guy alone with people he didn’t know.
My husband and I knew that this surgery was what was best for him. Although I am equipped with my own experience being hard of hearing to help him get through any obstacles, I worried that if we didn’t do the tubes surgery that he would start getting ear infections or he’d have a tougher time learning to communicate. We trusted our doctors and went ahead with the surgery.
For as worried as I was, our doctors made me feel so comfortable the day of the surgery. They explained everything every step of the way. His was one of the first surgeries so he didn’t have to fast late into the morning (kid never misses a meal). One of us was able to go back into the operating room as they put him under.
And to top it all off, the surgery was less than 15 minutes. No sooner had we sat down in the post-op waiting area did they come and tell us he was out of surgery. This surgery is extremely common. It’s very straightforward and uncomplicated. He woke up, ate some crackers and drank some water, and we were ready to go home. Truly, it was as smooth as an experience that we could’ve hoped for. We’ve already noticed a difference, and he’s picking up new words every day.
It’s ok to be scared and nervous if your child needs ear tubes. Surgery is never a small deal. But the experience doesn’t have to be bad, and you should find a care team you trust and feel good about. Ask the questions you need to. Being prepared is the best thing you can do in this situation; it will make your child feel more comfortable too. Feel confident in your decision knowing that it will improve the quality of your child’s life and overall health.