Ear Tubes and Development

We know that fluid behind the eardrum decreases hearing in children as long as it is present. We also know that the first 3 years of life are a very important time in a child’s development. The question is – does inserting ear tubes to eliminate this fluid help with development?

Researchers led by Jack Paradise MD at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine have been at work for years to settle this question. The answers are surprising, according to the August 2003 installment of the study in Pediatrics. The team enlisted 6350 healthy babies from birth to 2 months old and have regularly measured fluid in these children’s ear up until their third birthdays. If children developed significant fluid in the ears that lasted for at least 3 months straight or 4 out of six months, half of the children received ear tube surgery. The other half waited for 6 to 9 months longer and then had surgery only if the fluid remained. What was the outcome?

When the children were 4 years old, they received an extensive battery of intelligence, development, speech, language, and behavioral tests, looking at verbal and nonverbal growth. No difference could be found between the early and late treatment groups. Researchers will continue to follow these children as they grow up.

But for now, this large, carefully designed study has found no developmental benefit from rushing to ear tubes for young children.

Published on: August 07, 2003
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Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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