Understanding Ear Tubes

A quick procedure by an ENT can end a child’s painful cycle of ear infections

PHOTOGRAPHS BY (girl) H_Ko; (tonsillectomy) Prostock-studio & (tablet) Kiat Thaworn

Fussing. Fever. Nonexistent sleep. Yep, it’s an ear infection. And just when you thought your little one was finally getting over their latest cold. This painful pattern can be exhausting for both parent and child, but you’re not alone in those sleepless nights. Five out of six children experience at least one ear infection by their third birthday, making ear infections the number one reason parents bring their child to a doctor. Fortunately, ear tubes can help ward off this dreaded ailment, and the quick implant procedure has become as common as the infections themselves.

“After the procedure, parents always say to me, ‘I can’t believe we didn’t do this sooner’,” says Dr. Michael Noone, a Roper St. Francis Healthcare affiliated otolaryngologist (commonly known as an ENT doctor). Available to children as young as four months, this 10-minute procedure involves inserting a hard plastic or silicone tube into a tiny incision in the eardrum to keep the middle ear ventilated for a prolonged period of time, generally a year and a half. As your child grows, so does their eardrum, eventually pushing the tube out much like skin pushing out a splinter.

How many ear infections warrant this procedure? “Two issues determine whether we place tubes: repeated infections or persistent fluid,” says Dr. Noone. “We tend to be more aggressive with children younger than one, as fluid buildup can interfere with speech development.” In older children, repeated infections not successfully treated by oral antibiotics may call for the procedure. While ear infections are still possible with the placement of ear tubes, ensuing infections tend to be milder and far less painful, since the tubes provide pressure-relieving drainage.

Tonsillectomy Truths

Here, we take a brief look at this once-common procedure to treat infection and inflammation of the tonsils

Tonsillectomies have sharply declined over the last several decades.
Rates of this procedure have fallen as more strict criteria have been developed to determine who should have their tonsils removed.

Large tonsils need to be removed.
Large tonsils require removal only if their size is found to be causing a problem such as sleep apnea.

Recurrent infections can necessitate a tonsillectomy.
How many infections are too many? Seven infections in one year, five each year for two years, or three each year for three consecutive years.

A tonsillectomy can improve chronic bad breath.
No matter how much you brush, food particles can become compressed in the crevices of your tonsils, where they decay and cause bad breath. Removal can improve or entirely solve this problem.

NEW RESEARCH: Virtual Reality

Toddlers who use touchscreens often have a hard time avoiding distractions

To toddlers, the world is a hands-on adventure, and touchscreens are magnetic. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic drove families into virtual communities, at-home tablet use among three- and four-year-olds was on the rise, climbing from 28 percent to 63 percent between 2013 and 2019. As kids become more engrossed in touchscreen tech, however, many worry that too much exposure may hinder development. Earlier this year, a study in Scientific Reports concluded that high daily touchscreen use among toddlers correlates with a reduced ability to resist distraction, a skill needed for later academic success. The small study followed 40 children from the age of 12 months to 3.5 years. Using an eye tracker, researchers observed how quickly computer screen pop-ups diverted subjects’ attention. Toddlers who averaged more than 10 to 15 minutes on a touchscreen each day had a tougher time ignoring these distractions than those who spent little or no time on a smart device. Further research is required to determine whether these results signal difficulty concentrating or an enhanced ability to navigate the modern world of multitasking.