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Researchers urge caution in using ear tube surgery

oms, so the condition is often picked up during a routine physical exam. In other cases, a child will retain fluid after an ear infection has cleared up. Sometimes the two conditions can exist together.

Medical experts are divided on the need for ear tube surgery in the case of persistent fluid. Official guidelines from the American Academy of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery list presence of the condition for more than three months as a reason to recommend ear tube surgery.

Tubes' effect on hearing debated Perrin wrote in his editorial that the issue of surgery is an important one since it's often overused. A 1994 study found about one-fourth of ear tube insertions were inappropriate.

"I think the study has a really important finding, but it has to be looked at preliminarily," said Perrin. "It's not easy to be accurate with testing in 3-year-olds. We need to know what's going to happen in these children at ages 4, 5 and 6."

Ear tube surgery does have risks: the small, but real risk of anesthesia and concern about the long-term effect of the plastic tube in the ear. There are still questions about the tubes' impact on hearing decades later. The cost of surgery is about $2,000 to $3,000.

"This study should encourage families to be a bit more willing to wait to have their child undergo surgery," said Perrin.

Other doctors say the new findings will likely lead to discussions about re-evaluating current guidelines.

"It may be reasonable to delay ear tube surgery in some carefully defined groups," said Dr. James Lemons, who specializes in the study of hearing impairment at Indiana University. "Doctors should be aware of the pros and cons and carefully consider them."

For parents with children who are speech- and language-delayed, their problems are unlikely to be caused by a history of ear fluid, according to the study. But that doesn't mean that they should never get ear tube surgery.
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