Ear Tubes and Walking - What's the Correlation?

Jonah before his ear surgeryToday, my eleven month old son Jonah had surgery to put tubes in his ears.  Since he was essentially dealing with two straight months of ear infections, there's no doubt he'll have relief.  When we were giving the medical staff his history, we were asked a few times if he was walking yet.  Both of my older kids were walking at this point, but Jonah isn't yet.  He's cruising, but not walking.  That's totally normal and my wife and I are certainly not worried, but the questions made me think...is there a correlation?

The middle and inner ear is responsible for balance.  The vestibular system, sharing some bones that allow for hearing, controls the balance.  The vestibular system consists of three semicircular canals, which contain sensory hair cells that are activated by movement of inner ear fluid.  As the head moves, hair cells in the semicircular canals send nerve impulses to the brain by way of the acoustic nerve. These nerve impulses are processed in the stem of the brain and in the brain's cerebellum as coordination and balance.

When someone, often a child, has persistent ear infections it causes a buildup of pressure and thickening of the fluid in the inner ear.  This can cause the fine hairs within the ear canal to not function optimally and can cause dizziness and balance issues. When the fluid thickens, is infected, or has a buildup of pressure, tiny tubes are inserted through the ear drum to relieve this pressure and allow the vestibular system to function more normally.

So far, Jonah's been out of surgery for six hours and he's still not walking.  It will be interesting to see if in the coming weeks his balance improves and he takes those first steps.  Otherwise, we'll just be happy with better night sleeps, no ear infections, and an interesting topic to write about.

UPDATE 11/30/09:
I'll admit that I wrote this post as theoretical at first, but I will report that Jonah took his first unassisted steps six days after getting the tubes put in.  He's getting more confident in his balance and it is clear to me that the pressure buildup in his ear had much to do with his not having walked before the surgery.
Dr. Andrew Schneider
Dr. Andrew Schneider is a podiatrist and foot surgeon at Tanglewood Foot Specialists in Houston, TX.
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