Putting Tubes in Our Son’s Ears
This post isn’t my typical ‘home decor’ type post but lots and lots and lots of you have asked about our experience with ear tubes for our son, so I finally got around to writing up a post for you! First, the basics. Arthur will be turning 3 in a few weeks and, aside from speech, has met all other milestones. None of my kids have been early talkers so I wasn’t too fussed when he wasn’t hitting his ‘word counts’ at pediatric visits. But then he turned two and was saying under 20 or so words and I made a call to our state’s early intervention.
Step 1: Call Early Intervention
Two speech pathologists from early intervention came out and fully assessed Arthur to determine whether there were other areas of delay. Nope… just speech and language! We were scheduled to get a home visit from a speech pathologist 1x a week. Part of the testing requires an official hearing test. I wasn’t sure how they would be able to assess a small child’s hearing, but it’s amazing how it all works. Arthur and I sat in a sound booth and the audiologist broadcast sounds from either corner for Arthur. When he responded to one, a TV with a cartoon would light up as a ‘reward.’ There were also a few simple questions asked at various volumes that Arthur could answer: “where’s your nose?” “Where’s Mommy?” Finally, they can take an actual picture of Arthur’s ear drum with a thingamajig to check for things like fluid or infection. Sure enough, after our first visit, the doctor confirmed that Arthur had fluid in both ears and hearing loss consistent with this fluid. Essentially, he was hearing as if under water.
Ironically, he’s only had one or two (confirmed) ear infections. So either the fluid is present without getting infected OR he doesn’t present with typical signs of an ear infection (fever and irritability) so when he gets one… it just clears up on its own. It was helpful for me to see what a child’s ear drum looks like, because I never full understood what the deal was with all of this.
2. Anatomy of the Ear
The ear drum is how we hear and it’s a lot like a… drum in the way it reverberates and processes sound. On the other side of the ear drum is a ‘tube’ going down to the back of the child’s throat. In children, this tube is smaller and more horizontal than in an adult so it can get more easily blocked and then… air can no longer get to the ear drum and the pressure causes fluid to be ‘pulled’ from the cells around the ear canal. If this fluid sits for too long, it can get infected.
3. Pediatrician Appointment
We were sent to our pediatrician to address the fluid and he prescribed Flonase to help clear up any post nasal drip that could be leading to the fluid collecting in the ear. Fast forward 2 months to our second hearing test and the audiologist confirmed that there was still fluid in the ear. Not as much, but still present.
4. ENT Appointment
At this point we scheduled an appointment with a local ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat doctor) who works with children as well as adults. The first thing we did was a third hearing test (same routine… televisions mounted on opposite corners of the sound booth with varying pitches and the reward of watching the TV come alive.) The ENT told us that Arthur was definitely a candidate for tubes because he had 2 out 3 ‘qualifiers’: pervasive fluid and hearing loss. I think persistent ear infections are the other possible reason.
The surgery was scheduled for a couple of weeks from our ENT appointment. In an adult, the procedure would be 5-minutes and super simple, but for a child who won’t sit still, it’s only a bit more complicated because anesthesia is involved. We had to be cleared for surgery from our pediatrician, but nothing much was required for this other than an office visit.
5. Surgery Day
On the day of surgery, we woke up early and Arthur couldn’t eat or drink. I brought him to the surgery center in his pajamas, and we played in the waiting area for half an hour before being brought back for the procedure. Arthur was very chill about the whole thing, but they had a cute woman come and play with him to show him the anesthesia mask and get him ready. He walked himself back with the nurse, but I don’t think I would have been allowed back with him even if he had been upset. I mention only because that’s a pretty big shock if you’re expecting to be with your child the whole time!
I had enough time to grab a coke from the vending machine and check my email before the doctor came out to get me. The ‘surgery’ for tubes is to make a tiny incision in the ear drum and to place a literal tube (it’s the size of a sesame seed) into the ear drum. The tube allows air to get into the ear canal thereby equalizing the pressure so that fluid will no longer build up behind the ear drum. The tube stays in the ear drum for 6-9 months and typically falls out naturally as the body’s cells recycle themselves. These are not your mother’s ear tubes, so Arthur can go swimming, have baths… no limitations.
We spend about 45 minutes in the recovery room. Arthur woke up after 10 minutes and was pretty groggy. He drank a lot of water, but was otherwise just fine. He did throw up all that water on the way home, which I gather is a pretty typical response when kids come out of anesthesia. We also had to give him ear drops for the next few days to prevent infection around the incision.
6. Ear Tube Take-Aways
Other things to note. Our insurance did cover the procedure, but we have a pretty high deductible so we were still out of pocket a few thousand dollars. I was *shocked* what the various line items amounted to. Anesthesia was a big ticket item, no surprise and clocked in around $1300. The one that was a tougher pill to swallow was the $1800 bill for the recovery room. Yeah… the 45 minutes in a chair with a cup of water.
Despite the absurd cost of these two things, I would do it again in a heartbeat. The difference in Arthur’s communication since he got the tubes is incredible. He is talking much more and using full sentences in addition to using many new words. His articulation is still poor, but we continue to get weekly speech services and then, when he turns 3, he can receive speech the same way three of his siblings did at our local public preschool. He’s pretty remarkable in that he never really got frustrated by his lack of communication. With a big family, I do think his needs were often met despite his lack of language, but I can only imagine that for many children hearing through water would be a very very agitating condition.
We love our newfound chatterbox and can’t wait for his speech and language to continue developing. I thank ALL of you for your support and encouragement throughout the last few months! Every time I share Arthur on my Instastories, someone DMs me to comment on how much better his speech his, and I love what a loyal cheering squad all of you are, so thank you!