For many years, doctors treated kids with recurrent ear infections by putting tubes in their ears. Parents were warned that failing to take action could put the child at risk of hearing loss and learning problems.

A new meta-analysis from the University of North Carolina shows, however, that tubes can improve a youngster’s hearing short term but have very little effect over the long term. According to the lead author, “we found no evidence that surgical intervention improves longer term hearing, speech, language, or other functional outcomes in normally developing children.”

[Pediatrics, Jan 6, 2014]

Some parents report that removing dairy, peanuts, corn and/or wheat from the diet cuts back on repeated ear infections for some children. Another approach some parents adopt is to make sure the child is getting adequate vitamin D, either through sun exposure or in vitamin drops approved by the pediatrician.  Children whose vitamin D levels are too low appear to be much more susceptible to such problems (Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal, June & Oct, 2013).

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  1. KDJ

    I have volunteered for many years at therapeutic horseback riding facilities. One of the parents of a 9 year old developmentally delayed child told me that when the child was a toddler they didn’t need calendars… every 21 days the child had an ear infection, like clockwork, for over a year. They read about craniosacral manipulation, tried it out of desperation and the child never had another ear infection. Dad suffered from sinus infections, even tried cauterization, and they kept coming back. He tried the craniosacral therapy and after three treatments never had another sinus issue.

  2. MimiB

    Repeated ear infections are a scourge many parents and their children face. I have experienced the problems first hand, heard many conflicting reports, read many conflicting analysis… seen a number of doctors, each with his/her own theory and treatment. I suffered from earaches as a young person, as did my children and now grandchildren… even after all these years, there is no definitive answer to what causes earaches and how to treat them.
    Lives are being impacted by this scourge and yet we have few reliable answers. I was “threatened” with tubes… my parents hesitated and somehow, I stopped having ear aches by age 10. My doctor at the time suggested I had grown and my little eustachian tubes must have opened up. ???
    My children suffered terribly from ear aches. I consulted with their pediatrician, with an ear, nose and throat man, with other doctors. Each had a different theory and suggested treatment. One doctor wanted to put my son on a year of antibiotics. A year! I declined even though the doctor suggested I was a bad parent. But a friend of mine acquiesced to similar instructions for her child… he still had earaches, of less severity, but later he developed what we can call sensitivities and he was often ill. My son also outgrew his earaches. His hearing as an adult is perfect.
    It is reprehensible that this terrible problem and it’s treatments has not been better studied.

  3. CaptainP75PCR

    I went through this w/ my son, now age 50. Dr kept saying Otitis media, ear drops. After a long search which included: bad mother, bad child, retarded; finally at age 5, a psychologist advised, “Have his hearing evaluated!” Result, very little hearing, e.tubes packed! Got the tubes, heard normally (more normally?) for the 1st time and his early learning started at that point. He had missed those important first years.
    Regardless of the results of this study, I feel my son would have been handicapped for life, whether physically, mentally or both, had we not gotten him to the ear surgeon for the tubes.

  4. Jan S.

    My daughter’s baby seemed to have continual ear infections when she went to a baby sitter’s (mom went back to work after 3 mos.). She got transferred and her husband stayed home with their baby – and not ONE ear infection from then on. Others in nurseries told about their kids needing the tubes but they got away from that just in time. Hearing her scream if you touched her ears, was terrible, and I wondered at drs. taking away the antibiotics, I read about later.

  5. DP

    Forty five years ago when my twins were three, one of them went deaf. (He was the allergic one that had bouts with asthma). The pediatrician said his Eustachian tubes were blocked. Tubes were inserted, and he could hear again. The tubes fell out in about 4 months, but he never had that problem again.
    The Dr. said little children have such small E.tubes that they are easily blocked when swollen from allergy or infection. I remember friend’s children having the same “deaf” experience corrected by tube insertion.
    I think that it depends on the circumstances. Each case is different. For a child to become deaf when they are learning to talk would be very detrimental.

  6. Sherry

    They should do research on the antibiotics they use for kids with ear infections and when they do the surgery. They are the Fluoroquinolone group of antibiotics that have many damaging ADRs [adverse drug reactions]. I am sure they are doing harm to our children if they do so much harm to adults even if it is in a “solution” form!

  7. SA

    But the short term relief maybe extremely important. One of my children had frequent persistent ear infections and even though we tried everything else, including natural remedies and eliminating potential food allergies, nothing made a difference–until we got the ear tubes. As a consequence of 18 months of painful infections (baby tylenol & antibiotics can do only so much) at a critical developmental stage, she developed a serious emotional disorder that took a decade to resolve and made our lives very, very difficult.
    This reaction is not common, but I’m told it is in the literature. Her speech and social development were normal, which is one of the reasons we waited so long to get the tubes. From what I can tell from the abstract, these researchers did not look at specifically emotional issues, so they may not have picked this up. My daughter’s language, cognitive, and academic development was not affected–but her emotional development definitely was.

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