Wait-and-See with Ear Tubes

Ear-fluid buildup in young children doesn't necessarily require immediate treatment with ear tubes, researchers say. A study by researchers at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh has found that waiting up to nine months to see if the fluid clears on its own causes no delay in IQ or development.

Ear tubes are placed in children's eardrums for two main reasons, according to Jack Paradise, M.D., an otolaryngologist and lead author of the study. The first is to correct repeated bouts of ear infections that cause children pain. The second is simply to relieve the persistent buildup of ear fluid.

Previous studies had suggested that fluid buildup could lead to speech and learning delays. But Paradise and his colleagues found no difference between children who received tubes immediately and those who underwent a nine-month waiting period.

While Paradise says tube insertion is worthwhile to relieve repeated bouts of ear infection, he advocates against placement simply to relieve fluid alone. Tube insertion carries a risk of scarring of the eardrum, he says, and the long-term implications of this scarring aren't known.

Paradise suggests that parents whose children aren't ill ask their doctors what harm there is in waiting to see whether ear fluid resolves without tubes.

- Christina Elston

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