Treating children's ear infections with ventilation tubes in their ears increases their risk of minor hearing loss as adults.
A Dutch study found an average hearing loss of 4-9 dB in a group of 18 year olds who were treated with tubes in their ears in their childhood. The more often they were treated with tubes, the larger their loss of hearing.
The Dutch researchers monitored 358 people from birth until their 18th birthdays. About one half of them suffered from ear infections at a young age, and many had their ventilation tubes inserted. The other half constituted the study control group.
Those with a history of tubes in their ears had on average 4 dB less hearing than the control group at frequencies of .5 - 2 kHz and 9 dB less hearing a 8 kHz. In comparison, ear infections treated without tubes were found to have resulted in an average hearing loss of approximately 2 dB.
The extent of hearing loss further depended on the number of treatments with tubes. People treated repeatedly with ventilation tubes suffered on average 3 dB more hearing loss than those treated with tubes only once.
The study also found one or more instances of damage to the eardrums in 75 % of those treated with tubes. This group had an average 3.4 dB less hearing than the rest, but even in the group with undamaged eardrums their hearing loss could be attributed to the tubes having been inserted into their ears.
Based on the study, the researchers concluded that tubes in the ears are associated with stable conductive hearing loss, as well as a sensorineural hearing loss, which may become progressively worse through the years.
Source: Hearing loss in young adults who had ventilation tube insertion in childhood, Annals of Otology, Rhinology & Laryngology, June 2004
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