My 19-month-old son has had chronic ear infections which always seem to clear up with strong antibiotics. He has had tubes in for five months now and we have confirmed that they are still in. After his last ear infection three weeks ago, he has continuously been pulling on one ear. His doctor said that the tube is slightly protruding, but is still in a good position to do its job. He does not think it should be bothersome to my son, yet I can't help but wonder if this is why he is tugging on his ear. Could it be hurting or irritating him? He is speech delayed so he cannot communicate with me.
No, the tube itself, if in a good enough position to be still working, shouldn't cause your son discomfort.
The tube is a small, plastic or metal object shaped like a nail with a central tunnel. It is placed through the membrane (ear drum) that separates the middle ear space from the outer ear space. Its object is to allow the fluid building up behind the ear drum to flow out through the tube into the outer ear.
Tubes don't stop fluid from building up in the middle ear, they just provide an 'alternate drainage system'. Even with a tube that still works, it is possible to have a pocket of fluid trapped behind the drum and this may put some pressure on the drum, but it usually isn't a large amount and your doctor probably would have been able to see it if it was there.
Does your son's ear drain liquid or seem wet inside the canal? These are signs that the tube is working.
Though it wasn't part of your question, the more important issue is your son's hearing. Constant fluid build-up behind the ear drum can affect hearing to the point of causing some speech delay, and sometimes tubes are inserted just to treat this situation. If you haven't had a recent hearing evaluation and your son keeps tugging at his ear, you may want to bring this up with your doctor.