The throat and middle ear are connected through a small passageway known as the Eustachian tube. Have you experienced the sensation of a plugged ear, then felt it open when you yawned? That sensation was a change in the Eustachian tube.
Usually, the small passage is closed, but it regularly opens to help with draining and equalizing ear pressure.
When this small tube is functioning correctly, it can open through different motions: swallowing, yawning, or sneezing. The purpose is to minimize the risk of fluid and air pressure from building up in the ear.
What is Eustachian Tube Dysfunction?
There are times when the Eustachian tube becomes clogged and can lead to a variety of symptoms. Since you can’t see the Eustachian tube without specialized medical equipment, the best indication of a clogged Eustachian tube is the presence of these symptoms:
- Ear pain
- The ear feels full or blocked
- Sounds are muffled
- Changes in your hearing
- A clicking or popping sensation might occur
- Ticklish feeling in the ears
- Tinnitus – ringing in the ears
- Balance problems or dizziness
Some people find that Eustachian tube issues become worse when altitude changes occur. For example, if you are flying on an airplane, scuba diving, or driving through the mountains, then you can feel a difference in pressure within the ears.
These symptoms can last for a short time or stick around for a while, depending on the underlying cause of the dysfunction.
For example, when the symptoms are affected by a change in altitude, then it will resolve when you return to normal altitude again. If an illness causes the dysfunction, then the symptoms will linger until you are healed from the sickness.
Causes of Dysfunction in the Eustachian Tubes
Most of the time, dysfunction of the Eustachian tube occurs when there is a buildup of fluid or mucus in this small passageway. Chronic inflammation can also contribute to the development of symptoms.
Another health condition often causes the presence of fluid or buildup. For example, if you have a sinus infection, head cold, allergies, or the flu, then the increased mucus production can affect the ears.
Other risk factors of Eustachian dysfunction include:
- Smoking: Firsthand and secondhand smoke can damage the sensitive hairs within the ear, known as the cilia. These hairs work to move mucus from the middle ear to the back of the nose. So, damage to the follicles can result in the buildup of mucus in the tubes.
- Obesity: Sometimes, obesity causes fatty deposits near the Eustachian tube. These deposits reduce the size of the tube passageways.
- Age: Children have Eustachian tubes that are straighter and shorter compared to an adult’s Eustachian tubes. The smaller size makes it easier for germs to enter the middle ear, which can lead to an ear infection. Additionally, children have a more challenging time fighting infections because their immune systems aren’t fully developed yet.
- Allergies: People with chronic or seasonal allergies tend to experience more congestion and mucus. The ongoing mucus production and congestion can increase the risk of blocked Eustachian tubes.
Home Remedies for Eustachian Tube Dysfunction
Dysfunction of the eustachian tube is a fairly common condition. You can do things at home to treat this health concern and prevent issues in the future.
Depending on the severity and cause of the dysfunction, it’s possible that the symptoms will resolve on their own. Here are a few home remedies you might try for minor signs:
- Chewing gum
- Keep the mouth closed while breathing out through your nose
- Clean the nasal passageways with a saline spray
- Give a baby a pacifier or bottle to suck
- Use over the counter medications, such as allergy treatments, antihistamines, and pain relievers
OTC medications can provide temporary relief. But always follow the recommended dosages. Also, be proactive about talking to your doctor to avoid medicines that might interact with other drugs you are taking.
If you notice that these at-home remedies aren’t enough to relieve your symptoms, then it might be time to talk to an ENT.
Medical Treatments for the Eustachian Tubes
Are you trying to decide if you need to talk to a doctor about Eustachian tube dysfunction? Medical treatments might be required for severe cases or recurring symptoms. If your symptoms are severe or they last longer than two weeks, then we recommend that you schedule an appointment with our team of ENTs.
During this appointment, we begin with the diagnosis process. The doctor will ask about all your symptoms, including pain and hearing changes. The ENT will also look inside your ear to see what is happening in the ear canal and passages to the throat and nose.
If Eustachian tube dysfunction isn’t resolving on its own, then your doctor might discuss various treatment options:
- Antibiotics: When an underlying infection causes Eustachian tube dysfunction, then antibiotics might be prescribed to clear the infection. Antibiotics come in the form of oral tablets or ear drops.
- Corticosteroids: The use of steroids might be recommended to reduce severe inflammation.
- Implants: Severe cases of Eustachian tube dysfunction sometimes need to be treated by implanting pressure equalization tubes in the ears. These tubes reduce the risk of ear infection and help to equalize ear pressure.
- Draining: When the Eustachian tube isn’t working right, then sometimes the doctor needs to drain the built-up fluid from the ear.
Talk to an ENT About Eustachian Tube Treatment
Most of the time, Eustachian tube dysfunction can be corrected with relatively minor treatments. Some patients experience complications in the form of recurring symptoms. If you don’t address the underlying cause, then there is a chance that the symptoms will come back again in the future.
For example, if the doctor drains the fluid buildup, it will provide immediate relief. But if the fluid is building up because of allergies, then the ear symptoms might return if you don’t address the allergies.
So, talk to your doctor about immediate relief. Also, discuss options for proactive solutions that treat the underlying cause.
In severe cases, Eustachian tube dysfunction could lead to complications such as an infection of the middle ear, permanent hearing damage, or eardrum retraction.
Schedule an Appointment with a Local ENT
Would you like to talk to an ENT near Dallas or Collin County about your symptoms? Collin County Ear, Nose, and Throat is proud to be one of the leading providers in the area. You are invited to schedule an exam at one of our local offices: in Frisco or Plano, TX.
Please book an appointment using our online form. Or, call if you would like to talk to our office about the appointment: (972) 596-4005.