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Ear Tubes Should Stay in No More Than Four Years

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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD

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May 13, 2002 -- Plenty of kids get ventilation tubes put in their ears to prevent chronic ear infections, or otitis media. A new study shows that up to age 7 -- the period when kids are at highest risk for infections -- they can safely have tubes for two to four years.

In fact, if tubes are removed too early, they may have to be reinserted, says lead author Mohamed A. El-Bitar, MD, a pediatric otolaryngologist at Children's National Medical Center and the George Washington University in Washington.

He presents his study this week at the annual meeting of the American Society of Pediatric Otolaryngologists.

In the study, El-Bitar and colleagues reviewed charts of 67 boys and girls under age 7, and 59 age 7 and older, who had ventilation tubes.

In the younger group, 13% had some drainage from the ear and more than two-thirds needed to have their ear drum patched (which was successful in more than 90%), after tube removal. But almost 12% of kids in this group had to have the tubes reinserted due to recurrent ear infections.

In the older group, only 2% needed to have the tubes reinserted to treat additional infections, but almost 25% had some ongoing drainage after the tubes were removed and 83% needed to have the eardrum patched (which was successful only in about two-thirds of them).

Regardless of the patient's age, there was a significant increase in the risk of complications after the tube was in for four years.

Kids under age 7 are more prone to recurrent ear infections than older kids, says El-Bitar. Therefore, removing tubes before then will expose the child to more infections -- and possible need for tube reinsertion.

However, tubes should be removed once a child reaches age 7 to prevent complications, El-Bitar adds.

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