Does this sound familiar: Your child has been to the doctor every three weeks or so for an ear infection…and this patterns has been going on for months. Finally, your pediatrician recommends that your child see an Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) doctor to get tubes put in his/her ears. Tubes allow air to get into the ear and prevent further infections. But it’s scary. Surgery for a baby? What can you expect from ear tubes surgery on children?
No Food after Midnight
Like all scheduled adult surgeries, your child cannot have anything to eat or drink eight hours prior to surgery. They can have 4-6 ounces of breast milk up to four hours before surgery if they are very young. Otherwise, they can have nothing to eat after bedtime. (This is so they don’t get sick under anesthesia.) I recommend feeding your child their favorite food and bedtime snack the night before, so they will eat well. It will be 12 hours or more before they eat again.
Yes, your child will be under anesthesia for the surgery. After taking his/her vital signs, the anesthesiologist may orally give your child a medicine dropper full of drowsiness liquid. (According to the nurse, some anesthesiologists do administer this liquid prior to surgery, and some of them don’t. It depends on who you have.) This liquid also acts as an antihistamine. It helps dry up mucus and fluid. After 15 minutes or so, the doctor, surgery nurse, and anesthesiologist will come get your child and take him/her back to the surgery room. (You are with your child up until this point of the procedure.)
Once he/she is in the surgery room, they will give your child a sweet smelling gas that puts them to sleep for approximately 10-15 minutes. (According to the anesthesiologist, Little C’s gas smelled like grape candy.) As soon as your child wakes up from anesthesia, your doctor will have a brief post-operation meeting with you in a private room, then he/she will take you back to the recovery room to be with your little one.
What happens during the procedure? Once your child is asleep, the doctor will make a tiny slit in their eardrum. They will insert a small suction tube into the slit to suck out all the fluid behind your child’s eardrum. Once the liquid is drained, they insert a teeny, tiny tube into the eardrum slit. They do this for both ears. The whole procedure takes approximately 10 minutes from start to finish.
The hardest part about this procedure for little ones is waking up from the anesthesia. They feel disoriented and dizzy. Because they don’t understand the words required to explain what is going on, this feeling is terrifying for them. Something is really wrong, and they don’t know what. Not only that, but nothing makes this feeling go away except time. When they see you in the doorway, they are relieved because they think that you can make the strange feeling go away. You can’t. Perhaps holding their lovey stuffed animal will make the feeling go away. It doesn’t. Perhaps taking a drink will make the feeling go away. It doesn’t. As a result, this stage of the procedure involves a lot of crying.
The nurses will give your child Ibuprofen for the pain, but the pain isn’t what is making them cry. It’s the strange, drunk-like feeling that they don’t understand. Little C cried for 20 minutes at the hospital. Then, she cried 20 minutes of the car ride home. After that, she fell asleep and slept for two hours. When she woke up, she was happier, but she couldn’t walk straight for another hour. Her balance was very off. After that, she was completely normal. She ate well, slept well, laughed, and played. All was back to normal. (Some of my friends who have had the same procedure done on their children said their kids threw up a couple of times from the anesthesia during the recovery phase. That is a possibility.)
After the procedure, the doctor will prescribe some very expensive antibiotic ear drops for your child. You will need to put three to five of these drops in each ear three times per day for three days after the surgery. This will not use up the entire bottle, but keep the ear drops in case your child should get an ear infection. You will use the ear drops to treat it instead of oral antibiotics. (Store it in a cabinet out of light.)
To give your child ear drops, you will need to hold your child on their side. Put the recommended amount of ear drops into their ear, then pull down on the ear lobe 15 times to help guide the drops down the ear canal. Then, you need to wait for three minutes before rolling your child over to do the next side. (This is the hardest part. I recommend walking around while holding your child on their side in a cradle position. We thought it was easier to hold Little C sideways while we were carrying her instead of pinning her to the couch. They will most likely start crying around one minute, so be prepared.)
A week after the procedure, you will have a post-operation visit with your ENT doctor. They will check to make sure the tubes are secure and that the eardrum has healed properly from the surgery. After this appointment, you will meet with the ENT doctor every six months to check on the tubes.
Now that your child has tubes in his/her ears, there are some special water rules that must be followed for as long as the tubes remain. Your child can swim in a chlorinated pool and take a bath without concern. (They can go under water in a pool but not very deep. I think the depth limit is four feet. Also, your child can’t have any more bubble baths until the tubes fall out.) When washing your child’s hair, turn the earlobe down to protect the ear from soapy water, put in a cotton ball coated with Vaseline in the ear during bath, or cover the ear with a wash cloth. While your child has tubes in their ears, lake swimming and ocean swimming are not allowed.
While I cannot guarantee the same experience for your child, Little C tolerated the surgery very well. The surgery was short, and she recovered quickly. I felt like I worried like crazy for nothing!
Q: Did your child get tubes put in their ears at a young age? If so, what other advice or experiences can you share?