Eartubes and Ear Infections
Your child may still get an ear infection (acute otitis media) with a tube. If an infection occurs, you will usually notice drainage or a bad smell from the ear canal.
If your child gets an ear infection with visible drainage or discharge from the ear canal:
- Do not worry: the drainage indicates that the tube is working to drain infection from the middle ear space. Most children do not have pain or fever with an infection when the tube is in place and working.
- Ear drainage can be clear, cloudy, or even bloody. There is no danger to hearing.
- The best treatment is antibiotic ear drops alone (ofloxacin or ciprofloxacin-dexamethasone). Place the drops in the ear canal two times a day for up to 10 days. "Pump" the flap of skin in front of the ear canal (tragus) a few times after placing the drops. This will help the drops enter the ear tube.
- Ear drainage may build up or dry at the opening of the ear canal. Remove the drainage with a cotton-tipped swab dipped in hydrogen peroxide or warm water, a cotton ball to absorb drainage, or gently suction with an infant nasal aspirator.
- Prevent water entry into the ear canal during bathing or hair washing by using a piece of cotton saturated with Vaseline to cover the opening; do not allow swimming until the drainage stops. Non-custom or custom made swimmolds may be a longer term solution for water protection.
- To avoid yeast infections of the ear canal, do not use antibiotic eardrops frequently or more than 10 days at a time.
- Oral antibiotics are unnecessary for most ear infections with tubes unless your child is very ill, has another reason to be on an antibiotic, or the infection does not go away after using ear drops.
If your child gets an ear infection without visible drainage from the ear canal:
- Ask your primary doctor if the tube is open (functioning); if it is, the infections should resolve without a need for oral antibiotics or antibiotic ear drops.
- If your doctor gives you an antibiotic or ear drop prescription anyway, ask if you can wait a few days before filling it; chances are high you will not need the medication. Use acetaminophen or ibuprofen to relieve pain, if necessary, during the first few days.
- If the tube is not open, the ear infection is treated as if the tube was not there; the blocked tube does not do any harm (and will not cause a problem), but is also does not do any good.
When to Call the Ear Doctor (Otolaryngologist)
Call the ear doctor if any of the following occur:
- Your child's regular doctor can't see the tube in the ear.
- Your child has hearing loss, continued ear infections or continued ear pain/discomfort.
- Ear drainage continues for more than 7 days.
- Drainage from the ears occurs frequently.
- There is excessive wax build-up in the ear canal.