What are the Eustachian tubes and what do they do?
The Eustachian tubes are narrow tubes made of bone, cartilage, and mucosa that connect the space behind your eardrum with the back of your nose.
The main function of the Eustachian tubes is to equalize the pressure across the eardrum when there are pressure changes outside, for example when driving down a large hill, flying, or diving. Other functions of the Eustachian tubes include protecting the ear from infections and clearing fluid from the middle ear.
What is Eustachian tube dysfunction?
Normally, the Eustachian tubes open when you swallow, chew or yawn. If the Eustachian tubes become plugged or do not open normally, this can cause ear pain, ear pressure, ear fullness, hearing loss, ringing in the ear, fluid behind the eardrum, and ear infections. This is called Eustachian tube dysfunction, or ETD. It is a common condition that affects up to 5% of the population.
What are the causes of Eustachian tube dysfunction?
ETD is very common in young children since their developing Eustachian tubes are smaller and flatter. The Eustachian tubes grow quickly during childhood, typically reaching adult length by 7 years old.
ETD is more common in those with chronic allergies and sinusitis since the mucosa or lining of the Eustachian tubes can be affected by allergies and inflammation similarly to the nose and sinuses.
Temporary ETD is common with upper respiratory infections, which is why your ears may get stuffy with the cold or flu.
Other causes of ETD include smoking, reflux, cleft palate, and pregnancy.
How is Eustachian tube dysfunction diagnosed?
ETD is diagnosed by a thorough medical history and physical exam along with a hearing test and eardrum pressure test called tympanometry.
What are the treatment options for Eustachian tube dysfunction?
In some cases, the only treatment needed for ETD is time. ETD associated with an upper respiratory infection will typically resolve spontaneously within a few weeks.
Children with persistent ETD and ear fluid or recurrent infections often require ear tubes.
Treatment of chronic ETD in adults has been more challenging. If ETD cannot be controlled with treatment of allergies, sinusitis and reflux, ear tubes can be placed in the clinic. These are small temporary tubes that sit in the eardrum for about 6 to 12 months on average. They replace the function of the Eustachian tubes by equalizing the pressure across the eardrum.
What is Eustachian tube balloon dilation?
For patients who require multiple ear tubes or wish to avoid multiple tubes, a promising new minimally invasive treatment called balloon dilation of the Eustachian tubes is now available. This procedure can be done in the clinic under local anesthesia or sedation or can be done in the operating room under general anesthesia.
A small scope is placed in the nose in order to see the Eustachian tube opening. A balloon is then inserted into the Eustachian tube and inflated for 2 minutes. The balloon is then deflated and removed. Nothing stays in the Eustachian tube or your nose. There is no cutting or tissue removal. This procedure is safe and there is minimal pain or discomfort.
Most patients (50-75%) have resolution of ETD after this procedure. More than 90% have improvement in symptoms.
Eustachian tube dysfunction is a common problem that can negatively affect your quality of life. If you suffer from ETD, come visit one of the board-certified physicians at Capital ENT and Sinus Center for a personalized care plan so you can start feeling better today.