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Study shows best treatment for children with runny ears and an ear tube

Your toddler had a number of ear infections and the doctor has placed ear tubes in the child's ears to help the situation. The runny, smelly, yucky-looking drainage that showed up after the operation needs treatment. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine, published on Feb. 20, looked at a number of treatments for acute tympanostomy tube otorrhea and found that an eardrop that combines antibiotics and steroids seemed to be the most effective.

Toddler being given oral medication
U.S. Food and Drug Administration

The American Academy of Otolaryngology states that physicians insert ear tubes in over 500,000 children a year in the United States. It is, they say, the most common childhood surgery performed with anesthesia. Toddlers, ages 12 months to three years, are the most common patients receiving this treatment.

Ear tubes are given to patients with recurring ear infections. They serve to allow air into the middle ear, improving its function. They also drain any fluid formed behind the ear drum. One study, published in Jul 2013, found that 52 percent of children with ear tubes developed at least on episode of tympanostomy tube otorrhea (TTO).

TTO is a smelly discharge with accompanying pain and fever, an ear infection. Common treatments include observation or oral antibiotics. The study authors looked at those two treatments in comparison to the use of hydrocortisone–bacitracin–colistin eardrops. The study's result:

Antibiotic–glucocorticoid eardrops were superior to oral antibiotics and initial observation for all outcomes. At 2 weeks, 5% of children treated with antibiotic–glucocorticoid eardrops had otorrhea, as compared with 44% of those treated with oral antibiotics...

Dr. Ruby Roy, a pediatrician and assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Chicago, was interviewed by HealthDay News, and pointed out that the ear tubes allowed the drops to travel to the exact site of the infection. Oral antibiotics have effects throughout the body, and can often produce gastrointestinal irritation and diarrhea.

Study author Thijs van Dongen, M.D. suggested to HealthDay News that parents ought to see a physician as soon as possible if their child with ear tubes develops a drainage. Treatment with eardrops will resolve the infection faster and may reduce future reoccurances.

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