The Right Way to Treat an Ear Infection

The lowdown on ear tubes, and tips for kids who hate medicine.

The Lowdown on Ear Tubes

Myringotomy or tympanostomy tubes are very tiny tubes placed through the eardrums that allow air into the middle ear and let fluid drain out. We usually suggest tubes when a child has repeated infections (the specifics depend on the child) or has persistent fluid in the middle ear, especially when he also has hearing loss. Tubes have been shown to reduce the number of infections kids get and also to improve their hearing. A child will need to have general anesthesia, but the surgery is quick and easy and he'll go home the same day. Having tubes shouldn't change life at all, although kids need to take certain precautions to be sure germs and other things don't get in through the tubes. Tubes usually fall out by themselves within around six months, and the hole in the eardrum usually heals. Complications are rare.

Does Your Kid Hate Medicine?

Lots of us know (or have) at least one kid who flat-out refuses, spits out his meds, or vomits them up. I'll share a few tricks I've learned over the years:

  • Be clear that you mean business and that taking the medicine is non-negotiable.
  • For liquid medication, try to get the smallest volume possible (for example, a dose of 250mg could either be 2 teaspoons of 125mg/5mL or 1 teaspoon of 250mg/5mL). Ask your doctor about this.
  • Use a medication syringe instead of spoon. Not only does it measure precisely, but you also don't need as much participation and cooperation from your child to insert and squirt it into his mouth.
  • Talk to the pharmacist about using flavorings. Not all pharmacists can do this and not all flavorings will mask a bad taste, but it's worth a shot.
  • Try a chaser of something sweet. I've had good luck with chocolate syrup.
  • Consider chewables or crushing pills and mixing them with a small amount of something sweet like pudding, or with lots of textures such as carrot cake.
  • Use "incentives." Let your kid earn prizes or privileges for taking the meds—but do this judiciously.
  • If all else fails, talk to your doctor about injectable antibiotics. It's not an ideal option: At least two shots are needed, the procedure hurts, and it may not be effective. We only do this as a last resort.

Doctor Examines a Child with an Earache
Doctor Examines a Child with an Earache

Originally published in the December 2012 issue of Parents magazine.

Parents Are Talking

Add a Comment