Persisting Ear Infections

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When Dana Tolles’ one-year-old daughter got her first infection, Dana chalked it up to germs picked up at the new daycare.

For the next three months, Victoria suffered from persistent ear infections, diarrhea and high fevers. After countless doctor appointments, trips to the ER and five different medications, Dana was finally able to schedule an appointment with a specialist in Barrie, Ont. The doctor concluded that Victoria’s left ear was 100 percent blocked with fluid and her right ear was 40 to 60 percent blocked. “Essentially, her hearing was being affected from the infections more than I thought. Sounds and voices were very muffled to her, as if she were underwater,” says Dana. “I tried to swallow the big lump in my throat after hearing that news. My daughter couldn’t hear me clearly.” 

The solution was ear tubes, a common procedure among toddlers in Canada. A plastic tube, about 1 to 2 mm wide, is surgically inserted through the eardrum to allow ventilation of the middle ear. The procedure is fairly simple and takes only five to 10 minutes under a general anaesthetic. There are no skin cuts, sutures or dressings. Usually, children are able to leave one to two hours after surgery. Dr. Hamdy El-Hakim, a paediatric otolaryngologist in Edmonton, says, “There are a massive number of these operations performed annually worldwide. The medical community has a great deal of information to go by when choosing the child who will, and more importantly, will not benefit.” The surgery may be indicated in children who suffer from recurrent ear infections (viral and bacterial), with pain and fever and who have significant persistent hearing loss. This can have an adverse effect on communication, behaviour, motor-development, balance or learning. Dr. El-Hakim says there is little discomfort after the surgery and the average child will resume activity the next day. “Keeping the ears dry is generally recommended, although individual surgeons have various preferences regarding allowing the child to swim,” he says. “Parents who smoke increase the chances of their child having ear problems, before and after the operation.” The tubes usually stay in the ears for one year, after which they are removed by a doctor, or simply fall out on their own, pushed out as the eardrum heals. Permanent or semi-permanent tubes are rarely used. Often, children who require ear tubes before the age of two will need them again, after the first set is removed. 

Victoria had her surgery in June. She was given a Tylenol suppository for pain and enjoyed a Popsicle in recovery. She was alert, babbling and walking around happily. She left the hospital with nothing more than eardrops to aid in her recovery. However, follow-up appointments with the specialist are recommended. Nearly immediately after the surgery, Dana noticed changes in her daughter. “She could hear the television in the next room and even started making new sounds to hear her voice,” Dana says. “I was nervous at first, to hear that my child needed surgery, but it was 100 percent for the best. Since the surgery, she’s been great. She’s off medication and her hearing has improved.”

Published in August 2010.

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