"Your child should get ear tubes."
When you'll hear it: If this infection is one of many.
After an infection clears up, the fluid left in the middle ear -- what doctors call effusion -- can linger for weeks in some kids, often causing a degree of hearing loss during that time. Traditionally, doctors recommended a myringotomy (an operation to remove the fluid) and a tube insertion. The reasoning: Temporary hearing loss was thought to delay development in speech, language, and learning. But a 2005 University of Pittsburgh study found that hearing and speech are just as good in kids who don't get tubes as in those who do. "The best approach for many children is to see the doctor every month or two to see whether the fluid has cleared and wait it out," says study leader Jack Paradise, MD, professor of pediatrics and otolaryngology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Most pediatricians can do this ongoing evaluation, though some doctors may refer you to a specialist at this point.
Eventually, most cases of effusion go away on their own within three months -- unless your child is hit with one ear infection after another so that his ears never get a chance to clear. If he has persistent fluid buildup for three months or more, or he suffers from language delays, learning problems, or a significant hearing loss, the AAP recommends getting a hearing checkup. If your child's hearing loss is moderate to severe and he's had poor hearing for four months or more, talk to your doctor about tubes.
If your child needs this operation, rest assured that the risks are minimal, says Debara Tucci, MD, a pediatric ear surgeon in the department of surgery at Duke University Medical Center, in Durham, North Carolina. "About 90 percent of children who get tubes do extremely well," she says. During the surgery, which is performed in about 15 minutes under a light general anesthesia, doctors will make a tiny hole in your child's eardrum using a small scalpel or laser and insert the tube to keep the incision open. The tubes fall out by themselves in eight to 12 months.