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Don't Worry: Delaying Ear Tube Surgery Won't Harm Language Development

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WebMD Health News

April 18, 2001 -- Until he was 6 months old Matthew Luber had a very rough life -- and so did his mother Mandy Luber. "Sometimes I would come home on a Friday night and Matthew would be crying and pulling his ears and I would think, oh no, we can't go through another weekend like this," Luber recalls. Matthew, she says, suffered from constant, unremitting ear infections that led to a build up of fluid in his ears.

As difficult as it was to find an on-call pediatrician over a weekend, it was even worse when Matthew's infections flared up during the week. "My job was 45 miles away from our home and the pediatrician was 10 miles away in the other direction," she tells WebMD. Luber, who lives in Riverview, Fla., a suburb of Tampa, spent so much time caring for her sick child that "I was written up at work."

Relief came when Matthew's pediatrician referred Luber to an ear, nose, and throat specialist who told her that her son needed surgery to solve the problem. This surgery, popularly known as tube surgery, involves the placement of tiny tubes inside the middle ear. The tubes drain away fluid that builds in some children who have constant ear infections, a problem called middle-ear effusion.

If you have questions about your child and ear tubes, you can get some answers at WebMD's Parenting board with Steven Parker, MD.

Luber says that the tubes did the trick for Matthew and he "was fine until he was 4-and-a-half and then it started all over again." This time when she brought Matthew to another ear, nose, and throat specialist she was told that Matthew needed another tube insertion but he also needed to have his adenoids surgically removed, a procedure called an adenoidectomy.

Matthew is now 7 and Luber says, "he's great."

Debbie Levine says that her son, also named Matthew, had a similar experience but she and her husband found it difficult to convince Matthew's pediatrician that their son needed tube surgery. She says the pediatrician favored a more conservative course "trying antibiotic after antibiotic."

Levine, who is a magazine editor in Mt. Laurel, N.J., says that the breaking point for her was when she realized that her son's hearing was affected. She tells WebMD that "our kitchen was eight or 10 feet from the front door. Every evening Matthew would be sitting in his high chair and I would be feeding him at the time that my husband would come home from work. Matthew would just light up as soon as he heard the key in the door." But then Levine noticed that some nights Matthew wouldn't hear the key and "the next day a fever would spike and the ear infection would be back."

Levine says her son had tubes inserted when he was 11 months old. The family repeated the whole episode five years later when her daughter, Lisa, also needed tubes at 11 months. Both children are fine now, she says.

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