Skip to content

    Children's Health

    Font Size

    Ear Tube Delay Won't Hurt Kids' Development

    Study Shows No Harm to Speech or Learning if Ear Tube Placement Delayed
    WebMD Health News

    Aug. 10, 2005 -- Delaying ear tubes -- which are used to prevent ear infections -- does not hurt a child's development, say experts.

    "If tubes were completely harmless there would be no problem with giving tubes to everyone," researcher Jack Paradise, MD, of Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, tells WebMD.

    "But the point is that they are not harmless. There can be complications and risks associated with tube placement."

    Researchers found no major difference in speech or learning development among children who got ear tubes as toddlers soon after diagnosis for persistent middle-ear fluid and those treated with tubes months later.

    No Symptoms, No Tubes

    Each year in the U.S. hundreds of thousands of children younger than age 3 have ear tubes inserted to help clear the fluid from the middle ear and prevent future ear infections.

    The new report does not address the usefulness of tubes for the treatment of kids with repeated painful ear infections. But it does suggest that tubes may not be an appropriate option for otherwise healthy children who simply have persistent middle-ear fluid, says Paradise.

    Paradise and colleagues closely followed 429 infants that had middle-ear fluid for at least three months.

    The infants were either treated with tubes immediately or followed for up to nine months before tubes were inserted if the problem persisted.

    The children were 6 years old at the latest evaluation.

    The researchers found no differences in development of mental function, speech, and language between the two groups. The study is published in the Aug. 11 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.

    'Watchful Waiting' Best

    While it was once common practice to put tubes in the ears of children with persistent fluid buildup but no symptoms, this is no longer the case, says pediatric ear specialist Richard M. Rosenfeld, MD.

    Rosenfeld helped write guidelines issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) last year calling for a "watchful waiting" approach to treating middle-ear fluid buildup. He is director of pediatric otolaryngology at Long Island College Hospital in Brooklyn. N.Y.

    While acknowledging that persistent buildup can affect hearing and lead to speech, language and/or learning delays, the AAP panel noted that fluid buildup resolves without treatment in most children before such problems occur.

    "This study was planned in the 1980s, and there has been a very radical change in how we use tubes since then," Rosenfeld tells WebMD. "These days, physicians do a much better job of giving tubes to the kids who actually need them."

    Today on WebMD

    child with red rash on cheeks
    What’s that rash?
    plate of fruit and veggies
    How healthy is your child’s diet?
    smiling baby
    Treating diarrhea, fever and more.
    Middle school band practice
    Understanding your child’s changing body.

    worried kid
    jennifer aniston
    Measles virus
    sick child

    Child with adhd
    rl with friends
    Child Coughing or Sneezing into Elbow