“He’s got an ear infection” is a phrase I heard from our pediatrician more times than I like to count. By Emmett’s 5th ear infection at the age of 9 months, we were referred to an ENT to discuss getting ear tubes for our baby boy. The infections were miserable, but the thought of putting our baby through surgery was also terrifying. So, we deiced to try everything else we could think of first.
We went to a naturopath who suggested I cut dairy out my diet, so I did. We tried garlic oil and ginger and homeopathic drops and breastmilk in his ears. He had daily doses of elderberry syrup and chiropractic care and antibiotics and so on and so on. Yet he just kept getting one ear infection after the next. Poor guy always seemed to be sick.
Getting ear tubes for our baby was our last resort, yet not one we approached without careful consideration of the risks and benefits. Here are the reasons we decided to go for the tubes:
- Hearing loss. On our initial ENT consultation appointment, we discovered that Emmett had moderate hearing loss. This was the result of fluid buildup in the middle ear that was never able to drain properly (hence the recurrent infections). It broke my heart to see my baby not responding to sounds that I was sure he could hear during that hearing test.
- Speech delay. In my PT practice, I see so many children with speech delays resulting from hearing loss. Fluid accumulation in the middle ear muffles sounds and makes it difficult for babies to pick up language skills. Although the research suggests that there is no difference in long term speech/language outcomes between kids who get tubes and kids who don’t, I didn’t like the idea of my baby being limited by hearing loss during a critical period of brain development in his life.
- Balance/vestibular problems. Again, this is an issue of fluid in the middle ear. I’d often notice my poor baby fall flat on his face while he was crawling, even after he’d been crawling for several months. At 12 months when he still hadn’t taken any independent steps, I had a hunch that his ear issue was the culprit. So I did my pediatric PT thing and looked to the research. What I found was that balance disturbances in children with chronic ear infections were almost always solved when they received ear tubes (96% of children had improvements in balance in this study).
- Pain. Ear infections hurt. Badly. I guess I had forgotten just how badly until our 4 year-old got one and was screaming in pain. Emmett couldn’t tell us how much pain he was in, but he was constantly fussy and poking his little fingers into his ears.
- Too many antibiotics. Ear tube surgery has risks, but so do antibiotics. Our baby was prescribed so many rounds of so many different antibiotics that I really became concerned about his gut flora. There is only so much that probiotics can replace.
The hardest part of the procedure was not being able to nurse baby or give him any food for 4 hours prior to the surgery. He was fussy and hungry for those hours leading up to it, so it was quite a relief when the nurse finally took him back to the OR.
The surgery itself was very quick – less than 10 minutes in duration. He was groggy for the remainder of that day but didn’t seem to be in any pain. By day 2, my baby was back to his normal happy self. After one week, guess who started suddenly standing up and taking steps on his own.
We have absolutely no regrets about getting ear tubes for baby. In fact, we wish we would have done it sooner. He is all of a sudden noticing sounds like dogs barking and airplanes flying overhead. He is imitating our words now and babbling like crazy. Most importantly, he is happy and no longer in pain from his ears.