My son now 2.5 had chronic ear infections from the time he was 13 months old. For him, nothing had changed in his routine and I was very scared. My son's Pedi was not worried and isn't about sugery at all, but we had 5 in 4 months and it was getting exhausting seeing my son in pain ALL the time. For me, the thing was I had seen (like you) how tubes can be effective but, also like with my half sister how they can make things worse...she ended up having three surgeries to correct the damage tubes did to her ear canal.
So, I demanded a referal to an ENT who after one round of Keflex (and very upset tummy) explained he would not do tubes because my son's ears were fine. Just the build up was too much for his little body to handle with the constant runny nose. It was allergies and he needed to be tested and treated for that first. SO, long story short...we are both hayfever people who need regular allergy meds and inhalers!! I was so glad I got the opinion of someone who deals with the kind of stuff regularly.
There are some drops from Hylands that they sell at Whole Foods that are great for relieving the stress of ear infections that my ENT recommended during the bad bought. It helped so my son wasn't always crying and hitting his head. But, really demand to see an expert and get a second opinion if that feels right.
Today, my son's speech hasn't been effected and he's a chatter box! And, boys are sometimes later in that area. But, I am one of those Mommy's that doesn't mind the co-pay if it means I get answers.