Common Childhood Ailments: Ear Infections – Part 2, A Word on Burst Eardrums and Tubes

Chiropractic care for Ear InfectionsWhen fluid builds up in the ear and puts too much pressure on the eardrum, it is not uncommon for a child’s eardrum (or adult’s for that matter) to burst.  This typically is preceded by a large amount of pain and followed by instant relief.  When the eardrum bursts there is typically fluid that drains out of the ear. This fluid may contain some blood, but that is completely normal.  When an eardrum ruptures like this and the fluid drains out, the body will heal the hole in the eardrum and there is very often no visible sign that there was anything ever wrong with the eardrum.  This is a completely normal and natural healing process of the body.

If this is a common occurrence and it happens frequently enough, your pediatrician will recommend placing tubes in your child’s ears.  Frequent bursting of the eardrum and chronic true ear infections can lead to problems down the road, so your pediatrician will want to stop the current pressure and pain and prevent hearing problems that may come up after years of chronic ear infections and burst ear drums.  However, medical doctors typically only have two tools in their bag to help with this type of occurrence: drugs (antibiotics) and surgery (tubes).  If they have exhausted one option they will often go to the next.  Since the antibiotics have not been working (most likely because your child’s ear is not truly infected) tubes will be the next step.

The classic way of doing tubes was to artificially puncture the ear drum and insert a small tube to allow there to be a permanent opening between the middle ear and the external ear canal. The idea being that if there is no build up of fluid, there will be no ear infection. However, there are three flaws in this procedure:

  1. Just because there is no fluid build up now does not mean that there cannot be bacterial overgrowth that leads to an ear infection.  By opening the middle ear up to the external environment, there is a clear path for bacteria to get into what should be a sterile environment.  For example, if your child goes swimming or gets unclean water in his or her ear, it goes straight through to the middle ear.  Ironically, this procedure increases the chances of bacteria getting into the middle ear.  I have seen plenty of cases where a child has tubes in but also has an ear infection.
  2. Because this is an artificial process and the body does not want a permanent hole in the eardrum, the body will work to push the tubes out and seal the hole.  I cannot tell you how many kids I have seen whose tubes have “fallen out” and parents have had them put back in multiple times.
  3. When the eardrum is pierced artificially and not from natural pressure build up, there is often permanent scarring of the eardrum.  This scarring of the eardrum changes your child’s ability to hear normally because it changes the way the eardrum vibrates and transmits sound waves.   The scarring also leaves the eardrums more susceptible to ruptures in the future.

Staunton Chiropractor - Ear InfectionsThe new way of putting tubes in children’s ears tries to counteract one of the previous problems.  The newest tubes that are put in children’s ears have longer flanges that go on the inside of the eardrum.   These long flanges are supposed to prevent the tubes from coming out and eliminate the need for a “redo” procedure. However, the body is often still able to push the tubes out, but this time, because of the large flanges, there is much more tearing and scarring.  More tearing and scarring will increase the risk of affecting your child’s ability to hear normally.

Given the high potential for negative side effects from putting tubes in your child’s ears, I would highly recommend using natural approaches to avoid fluid back up and potential ear infections before trying something so drastic. To learn more about these natural approaches, I recommend referring back to part one of my blog post.

About Dr. Andrew

Dr. Andrew Dodge lives in Staunton, Virginia, with his wife Nicole and their children Luke and Josie. Dr. Andrew is a graduate of Parker College of Chiropractic at Parker University in Dallas, Texas.

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