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Tubes: why do some children need them in their ears?

Updated: May 7, 2021

Fluids are good for our children’s bodies…but not their hearing. There are several reasons why an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) Doctor may recommend a myringotomy; putting small tubes through the eardrums of young children. These include:

  • Re-occurring ear infections

  • Fluid buildup in ears

How is that related to us here and Andalusia Speech Therapy? Well, if a young child is still learning how to speak, they need to be able to hear language around them clearly in order to learn it. When there is excess fluid in a child’s ears, they cannot hear clearly, and often develop incorrect or delayed speech and language skills as a result. So ear tubes may actually help combat communication difficulties!

child tubes speech delay

The Procedure: Prevalence

The Procedure: What’s Involved

A myringotomy involves a doctor making a small incision into the eardrum of the child and placing small plastic tubes through the openings. These tubes allow pressure to be equalized across the eardrum and lets excess fluid drain from where it accumulated behind the eardrum. Essentially, the tubes are mini ventilation systems!

The procedure itself is generally short and safe. The child is placed under general anaesthetics for the duration of the process which only takes 10-15 minutes to complete. Most of the time, the tubes fall out naturally as the child’s ear grows and develops. They can also be removed by the child’s doctor during a routine visit if they don’t fall out on their own. The length of time the tubes stay in differ on a case by case basis; most children have them in place for 6-18 months.

Hearing Differences Before and After

When there is fluid built up in the ear (before tube insertion), the child has limited or muffled hearing. What they would be hearing would be similar to if you submerged your head just below the surface of the water in a swimming pool. When this happens, many parents notice that their children start trying to read lips, turn their ear toward a speaker, or increase the volume on the TV or iPad to hear better. If your child is exhibiting any of these signs, it’s a good idea to check in with your doctor.

After the surgery, there is typically an improvement in the child’s hearing. The excess fluid has been drained and the child can now process sound properly. Mild speech and language delays may naturally go away since the child can distinguish things they could not before. If delays were already significant though, they may have become habits that remain even after the tubes, so further speech and language therapy may be needed. Sometimes a myringotomy may need to be repeated more than once on a single individual, however this is not as common.

The Impact on Speech and Language

Improved hearing abilities go hand-in-hand with increased speech and language abilities. Delayed speech and language can not only affect communication, but also behaviour as child becomes frustrated with not understanding others or not being understood themselves. That’s why early speech intervention, if needed, can be so important to a child’s overall well-being. A child is better able to understand, interact and communicate effectively with others in the world around them when they can properly hear others.

Additional Resources

_________________________________________________________________________________Andalusia Speech Therapy has two Toronto speech therapy clinics and offers speech teletherapy to anywhere in the world. Contact us more for information.

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