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My son likely needs (tympanostomy) tubes for his ears for chronic ear infections.

I was wondering what I need to know about them and maintaining them.

For instance, I know it can limit your swimming activities unless special earplugs are worn. Does it affect bath time? Are those earplugs expensive? Are other activities affected?

I'm not concerned with the procedure itself, or seeking advice on whether or not to have the procedure done.

I'm concerned with lifestyle adjustments, inconveniences and extra costs that may be associated with tubes, so that we can prepare mentally and financially for this situation. In general, any health, hygiene and safety considerations I should be aware of. Specifically, the kinds of adjustments or inconveniences parents discover during the course of this, that general knowledge wouldn't prepare you for.

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    You might ask your pediatrician about some kind of injections that stop ear infections. I was skeptical when my daughter's pedi suggested it (how can shots help your ears?) but it was amazing. She went from 3-5 infections a year (or maybe more, she was not a child who cried much even if she was in pain) to having none. It may not work for your son, but no harm in asking about it. (Sorry, it has been ten years so I can't remember what they called the injection) – Francine DeGrood Taylor Oct 26 '15 at 22:41
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Our son had grommets, they were needed since his adenoids blocked his Eustachian tubes. He would get frequent infections that totally blocked his tubes, leading his inner ear to fill with liquid. This reduced his hearing significantly. Children's Eustachian tubes often are not fully developed until the age of 8. There is a simple check that a doctor can do to see if the tubes are blocked.

Until the grommets fell out (about 6 months later), he had to wear a swimming cap every time he went swimming (pool water is so not clean) and we had be be careful giving him a shower so water would not get in his ears. Beyond that, we didn't have to do anything special.

In rare cases, the grommets can leave a permanent hole in the ear drum.

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  • Ah, swimming caps! I wouldn't have even thought of that, but it seems so obvious now. – user11394 Oct 26 '15 at 23:27
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Now that it's been done, I can say we have our answer.

We were told that after the first few days of the procedure, clean water wasn't a concern. Bath water and treated pool water are fine, and we don't need to make preparations for those.

For swimming in lakes/streams/etc., we were told to use custom fitted earplugs from an audiologist. Swim caps weren't recommended.

We found that our son's noise sensitivity has increased, either due to the procedure itself causing soreness or the tubes releasing the persistent fluid that had been plugging his ears, we don't know. So, I'd recommended using lower volume for everything, from voices to speakers, for a little while after the procedure itself.

There seem to be no other long-term considerations for caring for them, and nothing we really need to prevent our son from doing to keep them free of infection. This was counter to my wife's experience with her own tubes as a child, and my experience with relatives that had them. Those experiences are what generated the original question.

On a side note, for the short term, it would be a good idea to have some soft foods and liquids on hand for after the procedure. Popsicles, sports drinks, gelatin, etc. The appetite may come and go for a week or so, and these foods help keep the calorie count up, and your under-the-weather child feeling a little better.

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