Eustachian tube dysfunction



  1. What is eustachian tube dysfunction?
  2. What causes eustachian tube dysfunction?
  3. What are the symptoms of eustachian tube dysfunction?
  4. How is eustachian tube dysfunction treated?
  5. What specialist treats eustachian tube dysfunction?


ENT specialist checking female patient's ear


What is eustachian tube dysfunction (ETD)?

The small tubes which equalize ear pressure and drain fluid from the middle ear, located between your middle ears (behind your ear drum) and upper throat, can become blocked.


When this happens, pain, hearing difficulties and a feeling of fullness in the ears can occur. The eustachian tubes are narrow and ETD can be caused for a variety of reasons.



What causes eustachian tube dysfunction?

There are various causes of ETD. Allergies and respiratory conditions like colds are the most common cause. This is because they can inflame or clog your eustachian tubes with mucus. Furthermore, sinus infections raise the chances of developing ETD.


Altitude changes can also cause problems with your ears. The eustachian tubes may experience problems due to effects of doing various activities including:


  • Hiking
  • Travelling through mountains
  • Flying on a plane
  • Taking a lift
  • Diving


Other conditions that can lead to a higher likelihood of being prone to ETD are:



Fatty deposits may accumulate around the eustachian tubes.



Protective hairs (cilia) in the middle ear can be damaged by smoking and increase the chances of mucus getting stuck.


Eustachian tubes are smaller in children so mucus and germs are more likely to get trapped. Furthermore their immune systems are still developing so they are more likely to get colds or respiratory infections.


What are the symptoms of eustachian tube dysfunction?

The symptoms of ETD can include:


  • Fullness in the ears
  • The sensation of your ears being blocked
  • Hearing changes
  • Tinnitus
  • Ear keeps popping
  • Clicking or crackling in ear when swallowing
  • Ear tickling
  • Pain


ETD can resolve depending on the initial cause. If symptoms are caused from altitude changes, they may get better once you return to the altitude you're used to. Longer-lasting symptoms may occur if ETD results from other causes or illnesses.


How is eustachian tube dysfunction treated?

ETD treatment is dependent on its severity and cause. Treatment can include:


  • Home remedies
  • Over-the-counter medication
  • Prescribed medication
  • Further treatment


Usually, ETD resolves without treatment. However, speak to your doctor if two weeks pass and your symptoms are severe and have persisted.


Home remedies for ETC include:


  • Chewing gum
  • Swallowing
  • Yawning
  • Breathing out using your nostrils while your mouth is closed.
  • A saline nasal spray to assist in cleaning out passageways.


If your baby has ETC symptoms, give them a bottle or dummy to suck.


Over the counter medications


  • Pain relievers such as ibuprofen can relieve ear pain.
  • Antihistamines can reduce allergy-related ETC symptoms.


Consult your doctor before using these medications.


Prescribed medication

ETD may be a sign of infection. Your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic, which can come as ear drops, oral tablets or both, if this is the case.


Further treatment

It may be necessary to have more invasive treatments in severe ETD cases. In some cases, pressure equalisation tubes (PETs) can be implanted to equalize ear pressure and to help with frequent or chronic middle ear infections.


Also, if the eustachian tube isn't functioning correctly, built-up fluids may also need to be drained. The procedures to do this involves making a small cut in the eardrum.


In severe cases, ETD may also cause middle ear infection, glue ear (fluid build up in the middle ear) and eardrum retraction.



What specialist treats eustachian tube dysfunction?

Both otologists, who specifically treat the ear, and ENT doctors, who specialise in ear, nose and throat conditions, treat ETD.

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