Prior to getting tubes, our life looked something like this… At three months, my son started daycare full time and his immune system started working in overdrive. He was exposed to new germs and as expected, he picked up his first cold almost immediately. His first cold turned into his first ear infection and just a couple months later he was working on his fifth or sixth ear infection, I lost count.
The first couple ear infections caused a lot of discomfort for my baby and a lot of guilt for me.
When Max got his first cold, I was very quick to get him to the doctor like the very nervous new mom I was. A quick visit the pediatrician reassured me it’s just a cold, she suggested using a humidifier at night and to come back if he gets a fever or loss of appetite. A couple more days passed, Max was getting fussier and sleeping less but no other symptoms. After a week I took him back to the doctor to find out he has an ear infection. All I could think was, why did I wait so long to follow up! Max was so miserable and I felt so guilty.
The next month the same thing happened. Max had a bad cold, I wasn’t going to risk him feeling miserable so I made an appointment and no infection. I waited a week to take him back and this time an infection in both ears. By months five and six we followed a pattern: ten days on antibiotics, four days off, and the infection would be back. It seemed the antibiotics weren’t fully getting rid of the infection. We tried three different kinds of antibiotics, and I hated having my baby on all these antibiotics – it can’t possibly be good for him!
I made an appointment with an ENT about getting tubes put in and I was really excited to finally give my baby relief. But much to my surprise this was not a quick process. We waited two weeks to get the consultation appointment and then to find out we have to wait eight weeks for the surgery. Again I felt so guilty! Why did I wait so long to have tubes put in? All I could think was in eight weeks he will have four more ear infections and four more rounds of antibiotics! Momma bear came out and I got aggressive. I called other recommended pediatric ENTs in the area and by 9 months Max finally had tubes put in.
When tubes are inserted, they poke a small hole in the ear drum and insert a tiny tube creating a canal for the fluid to drain. For adults, this is an easy procedure that can be done quickly in the office. Since babies can’t sit still for this procedure, they have to be put to sleep. And since they have to be put to sleep, they can’t eat for 6 hours prior to the surgery… a small challenge for such a hungry baby like Max. At 9 months, he is still eating every two hours!
Although I was nervous for my baby to get anesthesia (and nervous to not feed him for 6 hours), I was ecstatic for him to feel good again. Everyone I spoke to said it’s a quick procedure, the relief is instant and his ear infections should be minimal after he has tubes. The surgery went great. The ENT was wonderful. He said Max had something called “Glue Ear”. There was so much fluid for so long it turned to a glue like substance. He was able to suction 80% of the “glue” out and we needed to use ear drops for the next 5 days to get the remaining 20%. After that we should be good to go.
That wasn’t the case for Max. Two days after the procedure, Max was miserable. He was fussy and clingy and would wake up in the middle of the night screaming. This was way worse than any ear infection he had had. I called the ENT, he ensured me this wasn’t uncommon. Max had to get used to the tubes: noises seem louder, the pressure is different than he’s used to, and sometimes the tube can feel itchy until they get used to them. One week post tubes there was no improvement. The ENT checked him out, said the tubes were clear and bone dry, they were perfect. This was good news but also confusing news. What the heck was going on? Two days later, an ear wax looking fluid started seeping out of his ears. He had a double ear infection. Apparently, if you get an ear infection once tubes are in, fluid comes out of the ears (like a runny nose). The doctor prescribed ear drops and in just a couple days Max was all better. So finally, two weeks post tubes, Max was the healthiest and happiest he had been in a long time. The tubes were working great, he had adjusted to the changes, and he was over the bad cold.
Looking back at the rough couple months we had, it was really helpful once I was able to identify Max’s behaviors that signified he had an ear infection. He would be fussy for a couple days but the infection wouldn’t be visible for the doctor to see until I started noticing these symptoms:
- Digging in his ears
- Spitting up more than normal – the fluid would throw his equilibrium off and cause him to spit up more
- Shorter naps at daycare – he really hated lying down flat
- Clingy and wanting to be held more than normal
- Seeming restless in his crib and not sleeping through the night.
- Less interest in solid foods and favoring his bottles
Fevers are common in babies with ear infections but that’s not how Max’s body reacted. Once I saw these symptoms, I would then make a doctor’s appointment. Even though I knew an infection was coming, if I took him to the doctor too early, his ears would look clear and there would be no reason to prescribe antibiotics. For the early fussiness symptoms, I would treat with alternating infant Tylenol and infant Motrin. There’s a chance ear the infections will clear up on their own without any antibiotics but if it doesn’t clear up on its own and there is too much pressure from the fluid build up, the eardrum can rupture, which is essentially the body creating natural tubes. I don’t know what that feels like, but I can’t imagine it is pleasant.
After so many rounds of antibiotics, sometimes he would build up an intolerance and they would stop working. We started with Amoxicillin which was great because he liked the taste and was easy on his stomach. When that stopped working we found that Cefdinir worked better. We also tried Augmentin but I will stay away from that in the future if at all possible because it was too hard on his stomach and caused a diaper rash that seemed more painful than the ear infection.
Now at 10 months old, Max is fully adjusted to the tubes and doing great. Since tubes he seems to be babbling a lot more, his hearing test improved, and his balance seems better too. He is even sleeping through the night and taking better naps at daycare. It is amazing how resilient these little people are. I can only imagine what it felt like to have so many recurrent ear infections. He is one tough cookie!