Your Child’s Chronic Ear Infections May Require Tubes

Close-up of an infant's earChildren under the age of two are highly susceptible to inner ear infections. Often, this is the case because the small parts of the ear have not yet fully developed in babies and toddlers. For many little ones, the infection will clear up without any further problems. However, for some children, the infections become chronic and further measures need to be taken to avoid continued pain and permanent damage.

What Causes Middle Ear Infections?

To understand the middle ear infection, you have to understand a little more about the ear itself. The outer ear extends to the eardrum (tympanic membrane). The middle ear is the area behind the eardrum, and the inner ear is comprised of all the small parts that make hearing possible. Normally, the middle section is filled with air, and this helps balance pressure from the outside world against the eardrum. However, at times, the small drainage tube that keeps the middle portion clear will not work correctly and fluid will build up. This will cause an infection.

For most young children, this drainage system (the Eustachian tube) is not developed enough or large enough. This results in a blocked system. As the child grows older, the tube will develop correctly, and the middle ear infections will resolve.

The Chronic Middle Ear Infection

For some children, infections become chronic. This can partially be due to the child’s level of development, but other factors can contribute to chronic infections as well. These include:

  • Children living in a household with someone who smokes.
  • Children who go to a childcare facility regularly.
  • Children who drink their bottle while in bed.

Middle ear infections most commonly arise after a child has a cold or the flu. However, in chronic cases, the infections will come up for no apparent reason. They can be viral or bacterial.

The Negative Side Effects

Chronic middle ear infections can have numerous side effects. Of course, the most common is that they will cause discomfort and pain. Any parent who has held a crying baby throughout the night knows how uncomfortable an infection can be for a child. However, there is much more that needs to be considered.

Because fluid buildup in the ear will cause partial hearing loss in children, this can lead to developmental disorders. In fact, chronic infections have been linked to speech problems and even learning disabilities. If the fluid doesn’t resolve itself over time, the child could suffer from long-term negative effects.

What Can Be Done

For little ones who do suffer from middle ear infections that don’t resolve themselves, there is an option to help manage the condition. Small tubes or grommets can be placed in the eardrum. This tube will allow the fluid to drain without causing buildup or pressure.

The tubes aren’t permanent. In fact, after a few months, they will fall out on their own, and the eardrum will heal up naturally. Generally, once the tubes have been placed and the fluid drains, the child will no longer suffer from middle ear infections.

For children under the age of two, middle ear infections are extremely common. However, they shouldn’t be long term and they shouldn’t be chronic. A little one who suffers from chronic middle ear infections could suffer from long term side effects if treatment is not used to relieve the fluid built up behind the ear. Tubes or grommets can be placed by a qualified ear, nose, and throat physician so that children will not continue to suffer from infections.


Dr. Michael Barakate is a paediatric and adult otolaryngologist located in Sydney, Australia.  For more information on ENT surgery and ENT disorders, visit

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