Eustachian tube dysfunction

10 minutes read

If you don’t really understand what Eustachian tube dysfunction is, then you are in the right place. Eustachian tubes are small tubes that run between the middle ears and the upper throat and their responsibility is to equalize the ear pressure and drain the fluid from the middle ear. The middle ear is the part of the ear behind the eardrum.

They originate in the rear of the nose adjacent to the soft palate and connect the middle ear space to the rear of the nose. The hearing apparatus is in the middle ear space of the skull bone. One side of it is covered by the eardrum. The first two-thirds of the Eustachian tube gets its support from cartilage and the other third part, which is the closest to the middle ear space, is made of bone. One side of it is covered by the eardrum.

The nasal cavity and the tissue that lines the Eustachian tube are similar and may respond the same way in terms of swelling and mucus production in case it is presented with the same stimuli. The Eustachian tube is approximately 35 mm or 1.3 inches and approximately 3 mm in diameter in an adult human being.

What is Eustachian Tube Dysfunction

Normally, the Eustachian tubes remain closed although they open when you chew, swallow or yawn. These small passageways can get plugged for a number of reasons and when they do, they are referred to as blocked Eustachian tubes. They can cause a lot of pain, hearing problems and a discomfort of feeling full inside the ears. Such a phenomenon is what is referred to as Eustachian tube dysfunction.

This condition is relatively common and it can be resolved on its own or with simple treatment measures at home. However, if the condition is severe or the situation is recurring, then planning for a visit to your doctor is the best thing to do.

Functions of the Eustachian tube and how it looks like

Eustachian tube’s main responsibility is to ventilate the middle ear space so that its pressure remains at near normal environmental air pressure at all times. The other function of the Eustachian tube is to drain all the accumulated secretions, infections or debris from the middle ear space.

The opening and closing of the Eustachian tube are controlled by several small muscles that are located in the back of the throat and palate. The Eustachian tube functions are regulated with the help of the swallowing and yawning contractions caused by the muscles located in the back of the throat.

The Eustachian tube ensures that the middle ear cavity is not an isolated air pocket inside the head and is not vulnerable to every change in the air pressure that can lead to unhealthy middle ear space function. The ear pressure in the middle ear falls and the ear feels full if the condition of Eustachian tube function worsens.

At this point, a person will tell you that the sounds they are hearing are muffled. The vacuum created out of this can cause the fluid to be drawn down the Eustachian tube all the way to middle ear space. A common ear infection is also known as suppurative Otitis media may develop if the fluid becomes infected. Normally, contamination from the secretions found in the back of the nose cannot reach the middle ear space because the nasal opening of the Eustachian tube is closed.

Causes of Eustachian Tube Dysfunction

Since Eustachian tube dysfunction covers a broad range of symptoms, the same way it has a range of potential causes. The common causes of Eustachian tube dysfunction are the seasonal allergies and illnesses that cause inflammation in the area. A good example is a flu or cold.

Another cause would be sinus infection because it causes the Eustachian tubes to become inflamed or filled with mucus. There are also other causes that can trigger Eustachian tube dysfunction such as driving up a mountain, sitting in a plane, riding the elevator in a tall building, hiking at a high altitude, rock climbing, skiing, snowboarding, and scuba diving among others.

Other people who are at a greater risk of Eustachian Tube Dysfunction include

a) Children

This is because their tubes are shorter and straighter than those of an adult. This makes them prone to germs reaching the middle ear and the fluid ends up being trapped there. Since the immune system of children is not fully developed, it is hard for them to fight off infections and this makes them prone to Eustachian tube dysfunction.

b) Smokers

People who smoke are disadvantaged because smoking ends up damaging the cilia. Cilia are hairs that are responsible for sweeping mucus from the middle of the ear to the back of the nose. When these hairs are not there, mucus will gather in the tubes.

c) Obesity

People who are obese are also at high risk of getting Eustachian tube dysfunction because of the fatty deposits around the tubes.

d) Allergic people

People who are allergic may experience Eustachian tube dysfunction because allergies can cause increased mucus and congestion.

Eustachian Tube Dysfunction Symptoms

When you visit your doctor and share how you are feeling, your doctor examines you and relates to other symptoms such as pain and hearing changes. Your doctor will further examine your ear canals, eardrums, nasal passages and the back of your throat. From there the doctor will be in a better position to tell whether you are suffering from Eustachian tube dysfunction.

It is also important to note that Eustachian tube dysfunction can be misdiagnosed and mistaken for other conditions that involve the ears. A good example is the abnormal patency of the Eustachian tubes, where the tubes frequently open on their own.

When to visit a doctor and what questions to ask

If your ears feel plugged or full, the sounds seem muffled, you have hearing loss, you have tickling or tingling sensation, pain in one or both ears, tinnitus or ringing in the ears, pain and tenderness around the ear, ticking or popping sounds, a plugged feeling in the ear or sometimes losing balance is your high time you see a doctor for cure.

If it is your child, ask the doctor what to do to make your child comfortable even when they are suffering from Eustachian tube dysfunction. Now that you know what is ailing you or your loved one, ask the doctor if you are more prone to having an ear infection and what can be done. You should also ask your doctor if there is anything you can do to be more comfortable especially when you are traveling. Also, ask your doctor if the allergies you have can worsen the case and the best way to treat your Eustachian tube dysfunction.

Eustachian Tube Dysfunction Treatment

Eustachian tube dysfunction natural treatment

How long does Eustachian tube dysfunction last? Minor Eustachian tube dysfunction symptoms are easily treated by some simple home remedies. For example, an Eustachian tube dysfunction caused by a change in the altitude or air pressure can be treated by simply chewing gum or forcing a yawn. The symptoms of Eustachian tube dysfunction are known to clear on their own.

There are also exercises that are good in treating the condition such as swallowing, yawning or chewing gum. Other ways to relieve the feeling of fullness in the ear is taking a deep breath, pinching your nostrils closed and blowing while closing your mouth.

When a child is suffering from Eustachian tube dysfunction, you can relieve the condition by feeding them or giving them a pacifier. This is because as they swallow, reflexology will take place and help in relieving the condition. Swallowing, drinking or eating a snack doesn’t only help children to ease an Eustachian tube dysfunction symptom but it is effective for adults as well. This is because these remedies are good at helping the eustachian tube to open and close and relieve the pressure.

Minor or moderate symptoms of Eustachian tube dysfunction can be relieved by clearing the passageways to eliminate anything clogged in the passage since dried mucus and other particles end up getting stuck in or near the Eustachian tube and end up making one suffer from Eustachian tube dysfunction.

Ear candle

The United States food and drug administration (FDA) has warned against the use of ear candles as a form of Eustachian tube dysfunction treatment. This is whereby you insert a special candle in the ear so as to pull the wax and debris out of your ear as the candle is burning. There is no known evidence to support the fact that it can treat Eustachian tube dysfunction. More so, it can cause very serious injuries inside the ear. Actually, ear candles are not recommended to treat any form of the ear-related condition.

Over the counter medication

There are known over the counter drugs that can assist with Eustachian tube dysfunction symptoms. If you are experiencing Eustachian tube dysfunction due to allergies, you can use antihistamines such as cetirizine to ease the pain and discomforts. In case of swelling and pain, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen can also help.

Remember to consult your doctor before using these medications. In case you are on other drugs so as to confirm that they will interact with them in the right way. Also, make sure you check, read and understand the dosage instructions very carefully to avoid the problems that may occur as a result of over or under dosage.

Eustachian tube dysfunction in adults

When the symptoms of Eustachian tube dysfunction are as a result of bacterial infection, a doctor is likely to perform a test or more and prescribe antibiotics to a patient. However, in cases of severe Eustachian tube dysfunction symptoms, oral steroids may be prescribed by your doctor.

It is not common to see a person suffering from a long-lasting severe Eustachian tube dysfunction and when this is the case, then extensive and at times invasive treatments are required, including surgery. Depending on a person’s condition, there are cases where pressure equalization tubes (PETS) are implanted so as to equalize ear pressure and help with frequent or chronic middle ear infection.

In cases where a fluid builds up behind the eardrums and is unable to escape through the dysfunctional Eustachian tubes, the doctors are required to make a small cut in the eardrums so that the fluid can drain down. Pressure equalization tubes are used to help people who experience frequent severe Eustachian tube dysfunction.

Another treatment option is the implants that balance the pressure in the ears and help in reducing any chance of the middle ear infections. There are also other new treatment methods being studied such as Eustachian tube balloon dilation.

Having severe infections? Don’t worry because there is a solution. Your doctor will prescribe for you antibiotics which come in the form of ear drops, oral tablets or both. In cases of severe inflammation, oral corticosteroids can be used.

Treating Eustachian tube dysfunction correctly is very essential so as to avoid any complications whatsoever. The most common complication is the risk of recurring symptoms and this is likely to happen if you do not treat the causes of Eustachian tube dysfunction. Other causes of untreated Eustachian tube dysfunction are middle ear infection also known as chronic Otitis media, glue ear is also known as Otitis media with effusion and eardrum retraction where the eardrum seems to be sucked back further into the canal.

The bottom line

Normally, Eustachian tube dysfunction symptoms resolve within a few days and there are no causes of long-term complications. It is very important to note that when you treat the underlying causes, you will prevent any chances of recurring cases. If you are allergic, you should learn to prevent them so that you will not have a hard time managing symptoms of Eustachian tube dysfunction and you may not have any cases of it occurring at all. If your child is prone to ear infections or illnesses that cause ear pains, it is advisable to seek medical advice because children are more prone to this condition than adults.

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