Children | Ear, Nose & Throat
February 19, 2016

Ear Tubes: A mother’s tips and insights

by Ear Tubes

Pre-op instructions are helpful, but here’s the rest of the story.


Nearly seven years ago, after persistent ear infections, my eldest son Elias got ear tubes.

I remember feeling very nervous. He was just 1 year old. How could I send him back to have surgery? Would he be OK?

Of course, he was OK. He was better than OK. He started walking just a few days later (the fluid previously in his ear caused his equilibrium to be off). His ear infections drastically reduced in number. He was happier.

Since then, I have had two more children, and they, too, needed tubes. My daughter, Adeline, was plagued by ear infections and had two sets of tubes by the time she was 1. My youngest son (pictured above) got a set of tubes in December.

I joke that I make kids with crummy ears.

Whenever a mom shares with me that her child has frequent ear infections I encourage her to talk with her pediatrician about tubes. They have been such a blessing for my kids and helped them to feel so much better.

If you are headed down the tubes path, here are a few tips and bits of information I have learned after going through it four times.

Tubes are very small: I pictured tubes to look like straws, but instead they look like earring backs. It amazes me that something that small can make such a big difference.

Schedule a morning surgery (if possible): Because it is surgery, your child can’t eat or drink for eight hours. Babies obviously don’t understand this and might be irritable. Scheduling a morning surgery means they will sleep through several of those hours, making the no-eating policy easier.

Take photos: Your child will look so cute in the little hospital pajamas, so be sure to take some photos. For many children, this will be their first time at the hospital, so you’ll want to document it for the baby book (or Instagram!).

Don’t offer your child milk right after the surgery: Your mama instinct will say, Give him milk! He hasn’t had a bottle in 9 hours. He is crying because he wants milk. While all of that may be true, don’t give him the milk. Stick with the water and/or juice suggested by the post-op nurse. Even if you think he seems fine, wait a little longer. The anesthesia will cause an upset tummy. He will puke. All over you. Ask me how I know.

It will go fast: The surgery itself takes mere minutes. You will barely have time to open a book before you’ll be notified that your child is out of surgery.

Your child’s hearing will likely improve: Before having the procedure, your child will have a hearing test. For all of my children, their hearing was negatively impacted by middle ear fluid. Once the tubes were in place, their hearing was instantly better. Don’t be surprised if your child suddenly startles over noises, the vacuum and more post-surgery because hearing has greatly improved.

Be prepared for more activity from your child: My oldest son started walking three days after getting his tubes and our youngest started crawling a week after getting tubes. Having that backed up fluid removed makes a big difference.

Tubes don’t mean no more ear infections: While it’s true that typically a child will have fewer ear infections after having tubes put in, they don’t go away all together. However, instead of being treated with an antibiotic oral medication, the ear infections are treated with some antibiotics drops that you put in the infected ear twice a day. These drops work wonders!

Don’t be surprised when the tubes fall out: In most cases, your child’s ear tubes will fall out on their own. For my son Elias, they fell out and were lodged in a bit of ear wax that his pediatrician removed. For my daughter, she said to me, “Mama, something is in my ear.” When I looked, there was her tube sitting inside the opening of her ear! The other tube also fell out, but we never saw it.

I hope this is helpful if you are considering tubes for your child. Feel free to share your questions or experiences in the comments below.

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35 thoughts on “Ear Tubes: A mother’s tips and insights”

  1. alyssa says:

    Great post! My 12 year old son just got his 5th set along with middle ear exploration in Dec. They have made a huge difference in his health each time! I wanted to point something out that we learned from experience. Tubes can also fall BEHIND the eardrum instead of through the ear canal. It is extremely rare, though, but will require further surgery to go behind the eardrum to retrieve it. After that experience, we’re praying this current set doesn’t take after the last one!

    1. Linda Zettler says:

      Thanks for sharing your story, Alyssa. Wishing your son continued improvement! – Linda

  2. baby walker says:

    nice POST …. thanks a lot

  3. Kendele says:

    Thank you so much for this blog! We go this Friday for my one year and I am so scared. Thank you for giving me great insights

  4. Mags says:

    My son just got tubes and his hearing has improved immensely. My mom has also noticed improvement in his speech!!

  5. Alisha says:

    This post is awesome!! So helpful.. we go in for tubes tomorrow after a long scary road through horrible mentioned possible diagnosis about developmental delays.. someone finally linked 2 and 2 together and got us to an ENT! This post definitely helped with the anxiety thank you!

    1. My Southern Health says:

      We’re so glad it helped, Alisha!

  6. Dianna says:

    My daughter goes on August 8th. How was the recovery? I have heard that some kids act like nothing happened and some are inconsolable the first day but fine the next. Any recovery tips (besides the no milk, I will have to get her some juice, mommy despises cleaning up vomit).

  7. Harper Campbell says:

    Our little boy is in need of having tubes put into his ears but I am wanting to make sure we do all we can to help him get through this process. I am glad that you mentioned one thing we should is to schedule the surgery in the morning to help make the no-eating policy easier for him. This is something we will have to remember when we get to the point where it is time for the surgery.

    1. Maura Ammenheuser says:

      I’m glad to hear this information was helpful. We wish your son well and hope he recovers quickly.

  8. Amy says:

    Thank you so much for this post my 10 month old goes on Monday for tubes and I am very nervous!!! This has set me at ease!

    1. Amy says:

      How long did they have to stay at the hospital after?

  9. anna says:

    Thanks for this post, I am starting to think middle ear fluid (diagnosed at birth) is starting to have a negative effect on my son’s gross motor development. he is 6 months old, hates tummy time and rolling. I’m wondering if you had a similar experience?

    1. Maura Ammenheuser says:

      Hi, Anna. That’s a great question to ask the pediatrician, who may recommend an ENT to see your son.

  10. David Greene MD says:

    Great post Maura ! Thank you for the tips. Breast feeding baby’s has more chances of ear infection when mothers feed them lying on a side.

    1. Ash says:

      Thank you so much for saying that!! My son has had nothing but problems with his ears. He is 2 and we are still nursing so that makes perfect sense! Everyone says that breastfed kids are less likely to get ear infection. Not my kiddos! My other twos issues sitg their ears stopped when they weaned. Jaxson is still having problems and we are still nursing. Thank you so much!

  11. Nicki Goodbread says:

    I don’t know if anybody will see this, but my son goes in to have tubes placed on June 21st, just two days before his 2nd birthday. I am so worried that he’ll have a terrible birthday because of it being so close to the surgery!
    Also, just reading this post I started bawling my eyes out thinking about him on a hospital bed crying for me but being wheeled away and not being able to do anything about it! How do you handle that, or could they let me stay with him until it’s absolutely necessary that I leave?
    Honestly, I’m just so scared, even though I know it’s almost completely illogical to be frightened over such an ‘easy’ and common surgery when there are parents who have to go through so much worse…

    1. Maura Ammenheuser says:

      Hi, Nicki. As parents, we worry about our kids and their comfort CONSTANTLY, right? As this post points out, this is a routine and very quick procedure. Chances are, if you act like it’s no big deal, your baby will not be upset either. However, it’s always helpful to ask the doctor about your concerns and how to handle any potential problems (for example, ask how long you can stay with your son before he goes in for surgery so you both know what to expect). You can also ask if a Child Life Specialist is available. They do a wonderful job keeping children (and parents) informed and calm. Good luck with your son’s surgery!

    2. Christine says:

      How did the surgery go? My grandson is scheduled for tubes this Friday, Aug 17th, 2018.

  12. Brittany says:

    Thank you so much for posting this! My baby girl is 21 months old and is having tubes put in both ears tomorrow. We only just went to the ENT today. I knew they were going to suggest tubes, but I had no idea they were going to suggest tubes tomorrow. I have not had time to prepare myself and have been so anxious all afternoon! This post really has helped to reassure me that everything will be fine.

    1. My Southern Health says:

      We’re happy this post helped ease your mind and hope all went well with the procedure.

  13. Heather Fein says:

    My son got his at 9mo and still has them in and he’ll be 4yrs old in October. Is this too long to have them in? I have to clean his ears out every week and its mostly brown earwax rather than yellow like mine or my little girls. Is this normal too?

    1. Maura Ammenheuser says:

      Hi, Heather. Your best bet is to ask your son’s pediatrician or ear/nose/throat doctor about these questions.

  14. Kendra says:

    Hi thank you for this post it was helpful! My son had his first hearing test last month and I found out he has fluid buildup in his middle ear and it’s affecting his hearing they want us to get another hearing text done in 3 months instead of sending him to an ENT he is almost 3 years old and when he speaks it sounds muffled and he gets lots of ear infection and I feel like his hearing is getting worse as the days go by and he tells me almost everyday that his ears hurt and he’s always pulling at them I really hope they give him the tubes and they help I can’t do anything to help him and I feel so terrible about it! But thank you for the post it made me feel better about asking our doctor for the tubes

    1. Maura Ammenheuser says:

      Kendra, I’m sorry your son is feeling uncomfortable. It’s frustrating. Glad to know that this post was helpful — it’s always a good idea to talk through questions and strategies with your pediatrician. Good luck.

  15. Christine Szczesniak says:

    We’re headed to get my 2 year old tubes after 5 infections in the last 6 months. He got circumcised at 18 months so the surgery itself isn’t so scary to me (of course, it is still scary, just not SO scary). The thing that gets me is not letting him have food or drink for breakfast. Thankfully his surgery is at 7:30 but they wake at 5:30 so it’s still going to be pretty rough!!

    1. Maura Ammenheuser says:

      Good luck with a challenging morning. We wish your son a quick recovery and much healthier ears.

  16. Abby says:

    My 8month old got tubes in on Monday, June 17 and he was so terribly fussy that day and throughout the night. He started crawling faster and he’s definitely been a happier baby but he still doesn’t like to nurse on his left side. He wouldn’t nurse at all when he had ear infections, but since the tubes he’ll nurse on the right side. He acts like he’s still in pain on that left side.. just worried that something isn’t right.. has anyone experienced anything similar?

  17. Laura Ragusa says:

    My son is 9 months old and on of the ENTs we saw said it’s Betsy risky to do ear tubes on him at his young age because of anesthesia. You said your babies were younger than one year old so did your doctors ever seem concerned about general anesthesia? He made me feel nervous.

    1. My Southern Health says:

      Two of my three children had ear tubes as babies (before age 1), and the surgeons never expressed concern. It is a very fast procedure, so the child is not under anesthesia for very long. It is worth asking your provider about if you feel strongly that your son is a candidate. Tubes was a game changer for us! I hope this helps!

  18. Jessica says:

    My sons surgery is August 1 he has had 7 ear infections since he was 3 months old he has to have a Balloon pushed in his tear duct to open it up but they suggested to get his ears looked at because his infections as well they are going to do both surgeries at once because he is only 9 months old he will be 10 days away from 10 months when his surgery is the main thing I am worried about his him not being able to eat he is breastfed and when he wakes in the middle of the night he eats right away and goes to sleep but if he doesn’t eat right away he will be up for hours and we live 2 hours away from where his surgery is scheduled.

    1. Maura Ammenheuser says:

      Hi, Jessica. You’re smart to think about that in advance. You should talk with the surgery team about how to manage breastfeeding and/or pumping and bottle-feeding during this time. We wish your son well.

  19. Lana Miller says:

    My son got tubes put in about a year ago. Well the past week I can see the tube in the outer part of his ear hole. Will it fall out on it’s own? Our ENT is out for 2 weeks. I really want to avoid another visit to the ER. But was wondering if anyone else has experienced this?

    1. Maura Ammenheuser says:

      Lana, try calling your ENT’s office and ask to speak to one of the nurses with your questions. Or, if you feel you need acute care but want to avoid the ER, you can take your son to one of the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt’s pediatric after-hours clinics. There’s a list of locations here:

  20. Jessica Turner says:

    Hi there! I am the mom that wrote the article. Yes, tubes fall out in most cases. No need to go to the ER. Just know that without the tube, you might not know if your child gets an ear infection because the infection will no longer come out the tube.

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