I am not a medical professional. This information is from our personal experience and a medical professional should be consulted in healthcare decisions.
Almost one year ago our son had bilateral tympanostomy tube insertion surgery—more commonly known as getting “ear tubes”.
During this procedure a small hole is made in the ear drum and a tiny tube is inserted which allows air to move in and out of the middle ear.
We had always assumed ear tubes were only for kids who had excessive ear infections.
Garrett had his first ear infection at seven-months and he had five more infections over the next 11 months—for a total of 6 ear infections (two of which were doubles) in a year.
At this time we went to a large pediatric practice where we usually saw a different pediatrician each visit. Each doctor would look in his ears, note they were fluid-filled and infected, and write a script for another round of antibiotics.
Whenever we took Garrett in for follow-up appointments the infection would have cleared but the fluid remained in his ears. Each provider assured us sometimes it takes longer for fluid to clear after an ear infection, but the good news was the infection was gone.
On Garrett’s sixth ear infection the pediatrician spoke with us about tubes and said Garrett was “on the fence” for the number of infections that suggests tube surgery is necessary. This pediatrician said we could wait and see how Garrett does and if he got another ear infection in the next 8 weeks he recommended moving forward with tube surgery.
As we waited to see if Garrett would get another ear infection he started having falls. He fell down the stairs, would fall off a chair while seated, and trip when playing. As most 18-month-olds take tumbles while learning to navigate the world around them, we initially credited this clumsiness to Garrett’s young age.
In addition to the ear infections and balance issues, Garrett was also behind in speech development, saying very few words and most of the words he did say were approximations. My husband was a late-talker and many others assured us that all kids start talking at different ages, so again, we were operating under the “give it time” notion.
But it all just felt off. It wasn’t adding up. There were too many separate flags signaling something wasn’t right.
When Garrett fell down the stairs a second time I made an appointment with the doctor to discuss balance concerns as well as bring up Garrett’s speech development.
The pediatrician we saw this time looked at Garrett’s entire history and completed a full physical exam. Garrett didn’t have an ear infection at this time but he still had fluid in his ears.
This pediatrician explained to us that persistent fluid in the ears can impact the vestibular system—which controls our balance, how we know where we are in space, and how we move our bodies. The presence of fluid in the ears can interfere with how the vestibular system works. She also shared that fluid in the ears can also cause hearing loss and result in a speech delay. And finally, that persistent fluid in the ears creates ideal conditions for infections.
And there it was. She put it all together. The ear infections, the falls and balance issues, the speech delay—it was all related to the fact that Garrett had had persistent fluid in his ears for the past 15 months. The pediatrician said we should schedule tube surgery as soon as possible.
The ENT ordered two hearing tests with an audiologist prior to the surgery—both of which revealed Garrett had a hearing loss.
When we brought Garrett home from surgery he put a small blanket over his head and continued to pull a blanket over his head or cover his ears with his hands for three days. He was fully hearing for the first time in nearly a year and a half and the volume and noise was outright overwhelming.
Within a month after surgery Garrett’s vocabulary took off. Most of his words were still approximations but he was saying new ones and saying them daily. He was no longer falling off chairs and was tripping less often. He stopped getting ear infections.
Tube surgery is one of the best things we’ve done for Garrett and had we known sooner that it addressed more than ear infections, we would have scheduled it earlier.
My hope is this finds another parent somewhere who is on the fence about tube surgery. Or another parent who is desperately trying to identify perceived silo issues with their child that are actually all connected. As parents, we can research, ask for advice, and take our kids to a dozen different doctors, and still feel like something isn’t adding up. That gut feeling—mother’s or father’s intuition—is one of the best things we can rely on to keep pushing for answers for our kids.