Our children have stuck Lego pieces up their nose and put screws in their mouth (wait, both of those instances involved our son) and for a long time there was something in their ears that didn’t belong: glue.
Specifically, ear glue. Gross, right? Apparently, when my husband and I make babies, we make ones with busted ears. The area behind their eardrum fills up with sticky fluid, which makes it harder for the eardrum to vibrate and carry noise to the inner ear.
The result? Kids that are walking around like they’re underwater — only hearing muffled sounds most of the time. The solution? Drain those ears and prevent further buildup with a tiny set of tubes.
Usually when a parent talks about putting tubes in their child’s ears, it’s because they suffered (and by “they” I mean the parents, too) many, many ear infections.
Neither of our kids has ever had an ear infection but they both needed bilateral myringotomies and tubes in their ears — sometimes more than once. Our otolaryngologist explained some kids are just more prone to “glue ear” because of how their ears are shaped and how their ears change as they grow.
Kids with otitis media with effusion (the medical name for “glue ear”) aren’t in pain, so it’s very different than an ear infection. The only real symptom is hearing loss and it’s not always clear how much (or how little) they can hear, especially when they’re toddlers.
I was worried about our son’s speech when he was a year old, but I wasn’t totally clear — as a first-time mom — how many words he should be saying. At 18 months, he was saying exactly six words and his toddler friends were chattering away with many more.
By that point, all of the baby experts agreed he should be saying at least 20 words. Uh-oh. (“Uh-oh” was word No. 5 on his list, actually.)
Of course, tubes don’t last forever — they pop out on their own as the child’s ears grow, and you usually never even see them — and the fluid returned. A second set of tubes, when our son was three and a half, worked once again.
Meanwhile, our daughter had no trouble learning to talk. She seemed like a genius because she knew so many words, in fact! I remember recording videos of her, totally in awe, because I was fascinated by how many words she could say.
Hearing loss struck our daughter at four, during the later stage (the four-year-old to seven-year-old stage) when the ears continue to change and grow.
Suddenly she never seemed to hear us when we asked a question. She was constantly scrunching up her little face and saying “What?” I’d get so tired of repeating myself that eventually I’d just snap “Never mind!” and then get another “… What?”
As frustrating as it was for all of us, it must have been even worse for our daughter. She’d been hearing fine for four years and then everything was muffled, like she was going through life with noise-cancelling headphones she couldn’t take off.
When it was her turn for tube surgery, we were all grateful. She was still in the recovery room when she was making me whisper different sentences to see if she could hear them. Her little face lit up when she realized she could, and she happily declared her brother would no longer be able to keep secrets from her.
Both kids continue to see their ENT (otolaryngologist) every three months to check on the status of their ears. Sometimes there’s fluid and sometimes there isn’t, and it’s always interesting to see which tubes are still in place. The regular check-ups are well worth the long drive since we know there’s a solution available if the glue creeps back and starts to affect their hearing.
It’s amazing that tiny pieces of plastic — the diameter of a piece of uncooked spaghetti — can make such a big difference.
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