Pronounced: u-STA-shi-an tube dis-FUNC-shin
The eustachian tube is a small canal that connects the middle ear to the back of the nose and upper throat (nasopharynx). Its purpose is to equalize the air pressure in the middle ear with the pressure outside it.
Eustachian tube dysfunction (ETD) occurs when the tube fails to open during swallowing or yawning. This results in a difference between the air pressure inside and outside the middle ear. It causes discomfort in the ear and temporary hearing problems.
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The ear may feel blocked if the pressure outside the ear changes, but the pressure inside the ear does not change. When this happens, the eardrum cannot vibrate normally. It often occurs during altitude changes, like flying in an airplane, driving on steep hills, or scuba diving. Swallowing, yawning, or chewing usually make the symptoms go away.
ETD occurs if the tube is blocked or swollen, trapping air and fluids in the middle ear. This causes symptoms to continue beyond a few hours. Sometimes it can lead to ear damage.
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting ETD. Tell your doctor if you have any of these factors:
Symptoms can include:
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam. A lighted instrument, called an otoscope, will be used to look inside your ear. The doctor will check for a slight bulge around the eardrum, fluid, and swelling. If your case is severe, your may need to see an otolaryngologist, a doctor who specializes in ear disorders.
Other possible tests include:
To deal with ear clogging, discomfort, or pain, you can try:
If the symptoms do not go away within a few hours or are severe, your doctor may recommend the following medications:
In rare cases, a myringotomy may be necessary. The doctor makes an incision in the eardrum to allow the pressure to equalize and the fluid to drain.
To help reduce your chances of getting ETD, take the following steps:
American Academy of Family Physicians
American Hearing Research Foundation
Canadian Academy of Audiology
The Canadian Hearing Society
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Mayo Clinic. Airplane ear. Mayo Clinic website. Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.com/invoke.cfm?id=DS00472 . Updated October 2006. Accessed June 18, 2008.
McKinley Health Center. Eustachian tube dysfunction. McKinley Health Center, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign website. Available at: http://www.mckinley.uiuc.edu/handouts/eustachian%5Ftube%5Fdysfunction/eustachian%5Ftube%5Fdysfunction.html . Updated March 2007. Accessed June 18, 2008.
National Cancer Institute. General information about nasopharyngeal cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/cancerinfo/pdq/treatment/nasopharyngeal/patient/#Keypoint3 .
Patient UK. Eustachian tube dysfunction. Patient UK website. Available at: http://www.patient.co.uk/health/Eustachian-Tube-Dysfunction.htm . Updated July 13, 2010. Accessed November 4, 2010.
University Health Services. Eustachian tube dysfunction. University Health Services, University of Wisconsin-Madison website. Available at: http://www.uhs.wisc.edu/display_story.jsp?id=652&cat_id=38 . Updated May 2007. Accessed June 18, 2008.
Last reviewed September 2012 by Kari Kassir, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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