Report: Ear Tubes Hit or Miss

Now I had ear tubes, I don’t really know why? I was little at the time and don’t remember much about it. According to my mother I used to get a lot of ear infections and my doctor at the time thought it was the best course of action. And back then it didn’t seem that usual because almost all my classmates were getting them. It was kind of like a first grade rite of passage.

Of course I’m older now and regularly exposed to alternative points of view; most notably Dr. Fuhrman’s. So to say the least, I wish my parents hadn’t fed me milk—especially since I later found out that I’m very lactose intolerant. Maybe if they skipped the milk I might have avoided some of those ear infections that led to my tubing. Disease-Proof Your Child has more on this:
Ear infection, or otitis media is the most common medical problem for children in the United States, and it is the most common reason for prescribing antibiotics for infants and children. Not only do nine out of ten children develop at least one ear infection each year, but almost one-third of these children develop chronic congestion with fluid in the middle ear that can lead to hearing loss and make the child a candidate for myringotomy, or tube placement by a specialist.

Babies who drink from a bottle while lying on their backs may get milk and juice into their eustachian tubes, which increases the occurrence of ear infections. Children who are breast-fed for at least a year have been shown to have much fewer infections than those weaned earlier.1
So as you can imagine, this next report compelled me. According to Reuters a new study found that children who didn’t receive tubes suffered no additional developmental difficulties than children who underwent the tubing procedure. Gene Emery reports:
But a new long-term study challenges that practice, saying it does nothing to help most youngsters with fluid-filled ears develop normally.

In a study to be published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Thursday, researchers from several institutions studied hundreds of otherwise-healthy children up to 11 years old in the Pittsburgh area. They tested the benefits of a procedure that once was the second-most common surgery in the United States and found none.

Even when it doesn't cause pain, an ear infection can cause fluid to build in the middle ear, muffling hearing. Because hearing is essential to speech development, doctors and parents worried that persistent middle ear infections could cause developmental problems.
Now, since I’ve grown up to become the kind of person who doesn’t like going to the doctor, popping pills, or undergoing medical procedures, news reports like this make me curious. Was there a better way? Did I really need tubes? Maybe if my parents paid better attention to my nutrition I could have avoided the whole thing. Just makes me wonder, you know what I mean?

For more on tubing and ear infections, check out these previous posts:
1. Ramakrishna T. Vitamins and brain development. Physiol Res1999;48(3):175-187. Brown JL, Sherman LP. Policy implications of new scientific knowledge. J Nutr 1995;125(8S):2281S-2284S. Schoenthaler SJ, Bier ID, Young K, et al. The effect of vitamin-mineral supplementation on the intelligence of American schoolchildren: a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial. J Altern Complement Med 2000;6(1):19-29.
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Bree - January 19, 2007 12:06 PM

That's really interesting because I had ear tubes and my younger brother didn't and he has some hearing loss which my mom has always blamed on his not having had tubes-- she always says she wishes she had insisted on it.

Jude - January 20, 2007 3:15 AM

My daughter had four ear infections when she was young. The doctors said that it was probably in part because we were living in Iowa, where I attended grad school. By the time we moved home to Colorado, she had learned how to blow her nose better. I think that's why she stopped having infections, although it's nice to think that it was just moving home from Iowa--that Colorado provides a health advantage.

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