Study: Ear tubes not needed to promote learning

BOSTON (AP) -- Implanting ear tubes in most toddlers with frequent infections will make no difference in their learning or behavior through primary school, according to a study challenging one big reason for these common procedures.
Repeated ear infections -- even some colds -- can leave a fluid buildup that specialists feared would dampen hearing and slow language and other learning. However, it now appears the hearing loss is too short-lived and mild to interfere with learning, at least in the vast majority of children.
"Children are basically pretty resilient and can withstand ... that little amount of problem," said study leader Dr. Jack L. Paradise, a pediatrician at the University of Pittsburgh.
This was first shown true at age 3 by the same team of Pittsburgh-based researchers in 2001. Their later research found the same thing true into early school age. In 2004, professional groups eased the guidelines that had long dictated quick surgery to clear accumulated fluid.
The Pittsburgh group now makes the identical finding for ages 9-11 in a government-funded study of 391 children. The work was being published today in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The children in the study were tested for skills in hearing sounds, reading, writing, socializing, conduct and intelligence. Children who got ear tubes quickly did no better than those who waited up to nine months to check if the fluid remained -- and only then got implants if needed.
The plastic tubes -- with a diameter the size of a pencil lead -- are implanted in the eardrum to ventilate the middle ear, cut down on future fluid, and drain it when infections develop. The surgery has small risks, including those of general anesthesia and possible hearing loss from damage to the eardrum. Ear tubes generally fall out after a year or so.
Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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