Ear tubes for children go by many different names.
You may have heard these tubes referred to as myringotomy tubes, tympanostomy tubes, pressure equalization tubes, drainage tubes or ventilating tubes.
These tubes will most likely be recommended by an Otolaryngologist, or Ear, Nose & Throat Dr.
When Are Ear Tubes For Children Necessary?
My child is not vocalizing or making attempts to speak.”
When I was practicing as a speech therapist, this was a common concern that many parents came in with.
You as a parent are doing everything that you should be doing, yet your child is not babbling, vocalizing or making attempts at speaking.
Maybe you hear your little one making a sound or 2, but nothing to get all that excited about.
The first thing that I would always recommend to parents (assuming all other areas of development seemed to be progressing “normally”) is that they take their child to see an Audiologist.
An audiologist can test your child’s hearing to make sure that there is no hearing loss present.
Often upon my recommendation, parents would say to me “I am pretty sure my child can hear; he looks at me when I am talking and he startles when a door slams”.
This is a good sign.
It indicates that your child is not deaf and in fact, is able to hear.
However, it does not pin point how much your child can hear.
Some sounds are very quiet and subtle, so if your child has a hearing loss (mild to moderate) they will hear some sounds, but not necessarily all of them.
When a child is first learning language, they need to hear the words around them as clearly as possible.
If there is any “muffling” of sounds (think of what it sounds like when you have cotton in your ears, or when you are underwater) your child will struggle to repeat them and therefore will not make many attempts to “talk”.
Envision yourself learning a new language. This would be challenging in and of itself.
What Causes Hearing Loss In Children?
There are many reasons why your child may have a hearing loss.
A hearing loss can be present at birth or it can be acquired later on.
For the purpose of this article, I will discuss hearing loss that is caused by fluid in the ear.
Fluid in the ear? What is that all about?
When children experience ear infections (and many children do) fluid builds up behind the eardrum.
This build up of fluid is what can cause a hearing loss.
Most children will have symptoms associated with an ear infection such as: fever, indications of discomfort (pulling at ear and crying), general unhappiness.
But, there are some children that have fluid behind the eardrum that is causing a hearing loss, but they do not show any signs of an infection (my daughter was one of these children).
If your child has ear infections that last 3 months or more despite medication, or if your child experiences 3-5 or more ear infections in a year, myringotomy tubes may be recommended.
But, in my daughters case, she only had 2 “known” ear infections with symptoms in her first 14 months of life.
Luckily due to my knowledge of language development, I knew something wasn’t quite right because at 12 months old, she was barely babbling.
I took her to see an audiologist who said there was fluid present in her ears, and her hearing was affected.
I later found out that she probably had fluid in her ears for months with no indication of an infection.
My Child Needs Tubes – Should I Be Worried?
Drainage tubes for children are actually quite common.
Parent’s often become worried when they find out that their child needs them as it is a minor surgery that is usually done in a hospital on an outpatient basis.
Benefits of Myringotomy Tubes for Children
There are benefits to these types of tubes for children.
I know parents do not want to see their child in the hospital, however the outcome is well worth it.
My daughter had ear tubes inserted twice (the tubes are tiny and can fall out after several months to years).
- Ear tubes allow for drainage of fluid
- Once the fluid is no longer present, speech sounds will become clearer
- After a few weeks many parents notice their child trying to make more sounds
- Behavior issues that may have been present begin to resolve (e.g. hitting, biting – this may have been occurring because your child was not understanding you due to a lack of hearing and was getting frustrated)
- A “clumsy” child may no longer be so clumsy. Fluid can throw your child off balance, quite literally.
What Do Ear Tubes Have To Do With Play Skills?
The short answer, nothing and everything!
Your child will probably still demonstrate age appropriate play skills despite having a mild to moderate hearing loss (this is the type that you would probably see due to fluid in the ears) if you are engaging them in play.
Even though your child may not be hearing everything properly they can still see and follow what you are showing them.
However, play is so important to language development because of all of the opportunities to learn new words and sentences.
If your child cannot clearly hear everything that you are saying, they will not be able to make sounds or say new words.
So while it is great that they are playing, and their play skills are developing, their language skills will often be lagging behind.
Will You Give Ear Tubes A Chance?
I strongly encourage you to not fear your child getting tubes inserted if their language development is not where it should be and a doctor or audiologist has indicated that there is fluid in your child’s ear that is causing a hearing loss.
A doctor will not recommend ear tube insertion if it is not warranted.
Hearing losses caused by fluid in the ear can be reversed, resulting in no permanent hearing loss, if dealt with in a timely manner.
Does your child have ear tubes? If so, how have the tubes helped their language development? I would love to hear your answers!