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About 500,000 ear-tube insertions are performed each year, making them the most common surgery with anesthesia performed on children (most ear-tube patients are between ages 1 and 3). But while the procedure may be common, knowing whether it’s right for a child who has chronic ear infections and hearing issues can be tricky. Listen up to hear what experts have to say.

Why ear tubes?

Ear tubes—tiny cylinders often made of plastic or metal—are often recommended for kids who have recurrent ear infections (more than three infections in six months or more than four infections a year) or hearing loss from fluid buildup in the middle ear that lasts four months or longer. The tubes, inserted through a small incision in the eardrum, allow air to flow in and fluid to flow out, making the warm, moist middle ear less prone to infection. And without chronic fluid buildup—which may muffle sounds—any hearing loss may begin to reverse. The tubes are temporary, usually lasting between six months and a year, and tend to fall out as the eardrum grows.

How your child benefits

More than 90 percent of parents were satisfied with their child’s ear-tube surgery, reports the National Institutes of Health. Inserting ear tubes can lower the risk of future ear infections; improve speech, hearing and balance problems related to fluid in the middle ear; and improve behavior and sleep problems resulting from chronic ear-infection pain. But no surgery, including this common outpatient procedure, is without risk.

Know the risks

Complications can include perforation, in which the ear-tube insertion hole doesn’t properly close; ear infections, which tend to be less frequent and easier to treat once tubes are inserted; and repeat surgery should the tubes fall out too soon. Other risks include bleeding, breathing problems (from anesthesia) and surgical-site infection. The bottom line: Talk to your child’s pediatrician and consult an ear, nose and throat specialist to get the information you need to make the right decision for your child.

Why ear tubes?

How your child benefits

Know the risks