It seems like taking your child to get tubes in their ears is a rite of passage for parents of young children. If your child has had recurrent ear infections or speech and hearing delays and you would like to discuss this with a professional, we have a recommendation for you. Indianapolis Moms recommends the pediatric specialists at Riley Children’s Health Ear, Nose & Throat. Riley Children’s ENT will take care of your little one, every step of the way. We recently spoke with Dr. Lauren Sowa, a pediatric otolaryngologist, about the services and care provided by Riley’s ENT at both Riley Hospital for Children in downtown Indianapolis and Riley Children’s Health at IU Health North in Carmel.
What services does Riley Children’s Ear, Nose & Throat (ENT) offer families, and what conditions are most commonly treated?
“Now that the Riley team has expanded to five full-time ENT pediatric specialists, we treat the full breadth of ENT issues for children,” says Dr. Sowa. “We treat simple ear tubes and adenoids to complex airway problems, thyroid disease, anything in the head and neck, hearing loss, and cochlear implantation.” You can see a full list of their services here.
An issue that frequently results in referrals to ENT is noisy breathing. Often assumed to be Laryngomalacia, noisy breathing in babies is essentially a floppy airway. “If this is a concern to parents, we will do a flexible scope exam in the office to look at the area around the larynx or voice box, and this takes about 30 seconds,” says Dr. Sowa. This exam is done while the baby is awake and doesn’t require any medicines. “The exam helps us decide if things can be managed with observation, medication, or surgery.” Also, Dr. Sowa says the most commonly treated issue in children is recurrent ear infections, tonsillitis, neck masses, hearing concerns, speech problems, and breathing/swallowing concerns.
Is pediatric ENT available at Riley Children’s Health at IU Health North in Carmel? What is the pediatric experience like here?
Yes! Pediatric ENT services are available at IU Health North and the same ENT providers from our downtown location provide care here. Families can connect with their pediatrician for a referral to Riley Children’s ENT. If a child needs an outpatient procedure done, they can have it done close to home at IU Health North. In addition to outpatient procedures, an ENT clinic is available every weekday including full audiology services. There is free parking and a child-friendly environment for children, too.
When should I take my child to a pediatric ENT doctor? For example, if I believe my child is suffering from hearing loss?
Referrals to a pediatric ENT doctor can vary depending on the situation. Common examples of referrals are recurrent ear infections, hearing or speech delays, and allergies or congestion that cannot be improved with over-the-counter medication. Concerns for sleep apnea, neck masses or swelling, sinus problems, noisy breathing, and voice concerns (hoarse voice, voice changes, etc.) are other reasons to visit ENT.
Hearing or speech delay concerns get commonly overlooked, according to Dr. Sowa, because they are subtle. If parents have any concerns at all, a visit to an ENT can help either rule out any issues or create an action plan to help improve the child’s quality of life. Fluid in a child’s ears is also hard to diagnose, and the Riley Children’s ENT team has an Audiologist in-house to test the child’s hearing.
Are ear tubes as common as they seem? What signs should I look for to know if my child needs to get tubes?
Yes, they are extremely common according to Dr. Sowa. “It is the most common surgery done worldwide, and one in 15 children end up with ear tubes before they turn three years old. Our guidelines are always being updated on this because they are so common.”
Dr. Sowa says that if your child has had more than three or four infections in a six-month period, then a consult with an ENT specialist is highly recommended. Other signs that your child may need tubes in their ears are recent hearing loss or speech delay.
What can parents expect when their child needs a procedure to get ear tubes or when any other ENT-related condition requires a procedure?
Parents can expect to work with a wonderful nurse team with very efficient logistics and procedures. Depending on the urgency of the situation, their team can get your child in and out in a timely fashion. “Usually we try to be thorough in clinic when we need to talk about surgery, risks, and benefits,” says Dr. Sowa. “Child-life specialists are on-hand to reduce anxiety in parents and kids, and our operating nurses help with quick transitions.” Another point to ease a caregiver’s mind about the procedure is not only is it super quick, the child only has to have gas anesthesia and usually won’t even need an IV.
If my child has naturally waxy ears, how do you recommend cleaning them?
Rule #1, avoid the Q-tip completely. “My rule of thumb is nothing smaller than your elbow should go in your ear,” says Dr. Sowa. This is a very common question, and she says smaller tools will just push the earwax deeper into your ear. Kids that suffer from eczema and allergies will have naturally waxy ears, and Dr. Sowa has one trick to help keep earwax to a minimum.
“Good old-fashioned mineral oil,” says Dr. Sowa. “It doesn’t have meds in it so there will be no irritation and it’s a nice benign way to lubricate the ear canal.” One to two drops in each ear once a week will do the trick. And after you let the mineral oil lubricate the ear for a bit, gently clean the ear with a small towel or rag to help get rid of some of the gunk.
Tongue-tie and lip-tie issues – if a baby is nursing well or taking a bottle well, should an ENT doctor still be seen for either issue?
“We get a lot of referrals for this,” says Dr. Sowa. “And it depends on the goals for the family.” If your baby is thriving and not having any issues closing their mouth around the bottle or breast, it is not considered a critical or urgent issue. A lot of kids with tongue ties or lip ties do not end up with speech issues, but if there are any concerns, the Riley Children’s ENT team is always happy to do a consultation.
The Riley Children’s ENT team is a team of surgeons, and Dr. Sowa says there is a misconception that the team only wants to do surgery. On the contrary, the ENT team spends quite a lot of time not talking about or recommending surgery if it can be helped. Chronic problems don’t have to take surgery, and a lot of patients are treated with medicines versus surgery. No matter what issue your child has, the ENT team at Riley Children’s is here for you.
For more information on the Riley Children’s Ear, Nose & Throat department, click here.
About Dr. Lauren E. Sowa, MD
Dr. Lauren Sowa completed her Otolaryngology Residency at the University of Chicago in 2020, as well as a one-year fellowship in Pediatric Otolaryngology at the Children’s Hospital of Colorado with a particular focus on craniofacial and cleft lip/palate care. She joined the faculty at IU in the Fall of 2021. Throughout her training and beyond she has published several articles in otolaryngology journals as well as textbook chapters related to Pediatric Otolaryngology care. She has also presented her research at several national meetings, including the American Academy of Otolaryngology and American Society of Pediatric Otolaryngology meetings. Outside of work, Dr. Sowa enjoys cooking, hiking, and spending time with her husband and their Golden Retriever, Daphne.
Riley Children’s Health at IU Health North provides nationally ranked pediatric care alongside the most highly skilled physicians and nurses in the state. Whether your child needs primary, specialty, inpatient or emergency care, we are here to support you and your family. Learn more at RileyAtNorth.org.