Are Ear Plugs Necessary After Ear Tubes?

About Dr. Belinda Mantle

Dr. Mantle’s practice is focused on the diagnosis and management of pediatric patients with common ears, nose and throat disorders. She pursued sub-specialty training in pediatric otolaryngology at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. Dr. Mantle is fellowship-trained in pediatric otolaryngology and is a board-certified diplomate of the American Academy of Otolaryngology/Head & Neck Surgery.

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ear-tubes-children-los-angelesMany children require ear tubes (tympanostomy tubes, pressure equalization tubes, grommets) to be put in their eardrums after suffering from frequent ear infections. The tubes help the chronic infections to resolve, but often prove difficult to maintain because of the requirement that children not get water in their ears.

In summer months in particular, children struggle with ear plus when they want to swim.  Many parents report that their child will not wear the ear plugs, the plugs fall out, or the child’s ears still get wet despite using ear plugs.   Because they are so difficult, parents often ask if the plugs are necessary at all.

My child had ear tubes placed.  Does she have to wear ear plugs while swimming?

Recent research has shown that swimming in clean water (such as a chlorinated pool) without ear plugs is safe for a child with ear tubes.

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However, swimming in lakes, rivers, ponds or oceans can potentialy expose the ear to bacteria.  This may result in an ear infection, so it is still advised to use ear plugs in these waters. Ear plugs are also encouraged when diving or swimming deeper than 2 feet as the water pressure can force water through the tubes into the middle ear.

Does my child need ear plus while bathing?

During bath time, avoid getting soapy water/shampoo into the ears as soapy water is more likely to pass through the tube than regular water. Use clean water from the faucet to rinse their hair and do not submerge their head in the tub water.

ear-tubes-pediatric-entWhat kind of ear plugs should I use?

Options for ear plugs include:

  • part of a cotton ball coated in vaseline
  • wax plugs or other over the counter ear plugs
  • ready-made fitted ear plugs
  • custom ear plugs made specifically for a child’s ear

In addition, neoprene headbands or swimcaps can be worn over ear plugs to reduce the chance of water entering the ear.

If you have questions about ear plug use for your child, a pediatric otolaryngologist should be able to answer these questions.