Eustachian Tube Dysfunction: FAQ
by Dr. Christopher Chang, last modified on
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What is a eustachian tube?
The eustachian tube is a passageway that connect the back of the nose to the middle ear. The eustachian tube is encased by both cartilage and bone. Nearest the nose, cartilage provides structure to the first 2/3 of the eustachian tube with bone comprising the last 1/3 of the distance nearest the ear. The eustachian tube is lined with mucosa.
How long is the eustachian tube?
The eustachian tube is about 35mm or 1.3 inches in length. It is about 3 mm in diameter.
What is eustachian tube dysfunction?
Eustachian tube dysfunction is a condition due to partial or complete blockage of the eustachian tube preventing easy ventilatory communication between the middle ear and nose (outside environment). Eustachian tube dysfunction most often is due to mucosal swelling leading to blockage.
What are the symptoms of eustachian tube dysfunction?
Symptoms of eustachian tube dysfunction include ears which feel clogged or muffled that is difficult or impossible to pop open using the valsalva maneuver. Some people also describe abnormal crackling sounds as well as fluid sensation in the ears.
What causes eustachian tube dysfunction?
Anything that can cause nasal congestion can also potentially lead to eustachian tube dysfunction. Allergies, upper respiratory infections, dirty or dusty air, smoke, etc can cause cause eustachian tube dysfunction. Additionally, ear infections, sudden barometric pressure changes (deep-water diving, sky-diving, etc), and TMJ can cause eustachian tube dysfunction as well.
How is eustachian tube dysfunction treated?
Eustachian tube dysfunction is typically treated with medications to try and resolve the mucosal edema causing eustachian tube obstruction. Such medications include nasal sprays, singulair, oral steroids, etc. There are devices to help pop the ear as well including EarPopper, eustachi, and otovent.
Surgical intervention include cutting a hole in the eardrum in order to allow fluid and pressure to escape through the ear canal rather than the normal (but obstructed) eustachian tube. Ear tubes may also be placed. More recently, another surgical option is to insert a balloon through the eustachian tube and inflate to physically open the tube; this procedure is called balloon eustachian tuboplasty.
What are the risks of eustachian tube dysfunction if untreated?
Risks of untreated eustachian tube dysfunction include conductive hearing loss, fluid buildup in the ear, recurrent ear infections, and continued clogged and muffled ear sensations.
What else could be causing symptoms similar to eustachian tube dysfunction, but not because of it?
Other conditions that can cause symptoms similar to eustachian tube dysfunction include earwax impaction, serous otitis media, TMJ, cochlear hydrops, superior semicircular canal dehiscence, sudden nerve hearing loss, large hole in the eardrum, etc.
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