A study in today’s New England Journal of Medicine reports that the early placement of ear tubes does little to improve language, speech or development in otherwise normal children with persistent ear fluid. The study brings closure to nearly four decades during which it was believed that persistent middle ear fluid early in life was associated with developmental problems. Tympanostomy, or the placement of tubes into the eardrum to drain the middle ear, is the second most frequently performed surgical procedure after circumcision.
While children with persistent middle ear fluid need to be followed closely for hearing problems, this study offers some relief for the parents of otherwise normally developing children who want to ride it out. My guess, however, is that ear tubes will remain as wildly popular as in years past.