Can You Hear Me Now? Preemies and Ear Tubes

May 29, 2015

Preemies and ear tubesJaxson, my micropreemie born at 23 weeks, passed his hearing test before he was discharged from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). I thought we were in the clear with hearing issues, but then Jaxson started getting recurring ear infections and fluid build-up in his ear canals. The constant fluid in his ears was causing a significant hearing loss. And the hearing loss was causing a speech delay. Jaxson was referred to an Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) specialist.

My preemie was going to need ear tubes.

Ear tubes are a good option for children who either get lots of ear infections or have fluid behind the eardrum that doesn’t go away.

During an ear infection, fluid builds up behind the eardrum. Normally, when the ear infection has run its course the fluid drains out of the middle ear. Sometimes this fluid doesn’t go away because part of the ear remains swollen and the fluid can’t drain. “Fluid trapped behind the eardrum causes a hearing loss because it prevents the eardrum from vibrating normally.” (Source)

During the procedure, fluid is removed from the middle ear and then a very small tube is inserted into the hole. This lets air into the middle ear space and prevents fluid from building up again. Ear tubes can lessen the chance of a child getting an ear infection.

The ear tube surgery is a very short procedure – often lasting less than 15 minutes!

Considering all the other surgeries and procedures my preemie has had, this one was low on the worry list for me. Still, any procedure under general anesthesia is a concern for most parents. (General anesthesia is required for this procedure because the ear canal is so small and delicate – doctors cannot risk a child moving during the procedure.)

We were especially concerned about the anesthesia because Jax had a history of requiring oxygen support when recovering from surgery. My son was 13 months actual (9 months adjusted) when he went in for surgery. We planned ahead and scheduled another procedure we knew Jax needed so he would only have to go under anesthesia once that month. We also prepared for a short-term hospital stay so nurses could monitor Jax as he recovered from the anesthesia.

When we returned to the recovery room, the nurse turned the TV to a soothing nature program. Ducks quacked in the background. Jax whipped his head around to see what was making that noise! He had never noticed a sound like this before – his hearing had immediately improved!

Jaxson recovered quickly. There was a little bit of drainage for two days after the procedure. We had to administer ear drops to prevent infection for one week following surgery. No problem!

We are so glad that we decided to do this surgery. Within the following months, Jax’s speech exploded! He said “mama” for the first time. He started seeing a speech therapist to help him overcome his speech delay. He continues to see a speech therapist twice a month and he is almost totally caught up to his peers with expressive speech.

Jaxson also went more than a year without an ear infection. What a relief!

The tubes recently fell out, which is expected and common as the ear canal grows. Unfortunately, Jax almost immediately got another ear infection once the tubes fell out. We have not seen the ENT doctor yet, but suspect that Jax may need another set of tubes to help prevent fluid build-up and lessen the chance of ear infections. If that’s the case, we know what to expect and we’re ready for it!

Did your preemie need ear tubes? What was it like for your preemie?