Eustachian Tube Dysfunction (ETD): Treatments & Home Remedies

Overview

The eustachian tube is a small tube that connects your upper throat to your middle ear. When you sneeze, swallow, chew, or yawn, your eustachian tubes open. They are responsible for equalizing ear pressure and avoid fluid building up inside your ears.

However, sometimes a eustachian tube may get plugged. This condition is called eustachian tube dysfunction (ETD). It is a relatively common condition. Depending on the cause, it may resolve on its own or through simple at-home treatment measures. Severe or recurring cases may require a visit to the doctor.

Causes

Causes of ETD are various, including:

  • Allergies, the cold or flu and sinus infections: these conditions may cause eustachian tubes to become inflamed or clogged with mucus.
  • Altitude changes: such as hiking, traveling through mountains, flying on a plane or taking an elevator.
  • Smoking: Smoking damages the cilia (the tiny hairs that sweep mucus from the middle ear to the back of the nose) which can make mucus to gather in the tubes.
  • For obese people: Fatty deposits around the tubes can lead to Eustachian tube dysfunction.
  • For children: Their tubes are shorter and straighter than those of an adult which makes it easier for germs to reach the middle ear and for fluid to become trapped there. In addition, children’s immune systems are not fully developed. This makes they are easy to get infections.
  • Tumors behind the eardrum or at the back of the nose (the nasopharynx): it is rarely.

Symptoms

When ETD occurs, following symptoms may appear:

  • ears may feel plugged or full.
  • ears feeling like they are filled with water
  • Sounds may seem muffled.
  • feel a popping or clicking sensation (children may say their ear “tickles”).
  • pain in one or both ears.
  • hear ringing in your ears (called tinnitus).
  • sometimes have trouble keeping your balance.

The length of time that ETD symptoms last depends on its initial cause. At the same time, symptoms of ETD can vary from mild to severe and may be different for each person.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis of ETD usually through exam from doctor. The doctor may ask you about pain, hearing changes, or other symptoms you are experiencing. Then the doctor will examine your ear canals and eardrums, your nasal passages, and the back of your throat. If ETD is caused by another illness or disorder, the doctor may ask questions about that in order to determine the correct treatment.

If your symptoms have gone on for more than six weeks, doctors may advise you to do some further tests, including:

  • Hearing tests (called an audiogram): to get an accurate idea of your hearing.
  • Tympanogram: it is a way of testing the pressure behind your eardrum.
  • Nasopharyngoscopy: using a small flexible camera is put into your nose to look at the back of your nose (the nasopharynx) and to see the openings of the Eustachian tube directly.
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan.

Treatments

Generally, ETD usually resolves without treatment. If your symptoms are severe or persist for more than two weeks, doctors may advise you take some treatment options, including:

  • Making a tiny incision in the eardrum and suctioning out the fluid in the middle ear. This gives the Eustachian tube lining time to shrink while the eardrum is healing (usually 1 to 3 days).
  • Implanting small tubes in the eardrums. These let built-up fluid drain out of the middle ear.
  • Using a balloon dilation system. A doctor will use a catheter (long, flexible tube) to insert a small balloon through your nose and into the Eustachian tube. When it is inflated, the balloon opens a pathway for mucus and air to flow through the tube.

Medications

Antihistamines
Such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) or cetirizine (Zyrtec, Aller-Tec, Alleroff) can reduce allergy symptoms and related ear problems.

OTC pain relievers
Such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) can alleviate pain in your ears.

Decongestant nasal sprays or drops
A decongestant may be advised by your doctor if you have a cold or other cause of nasal congestion.

Steroid nasal spray
A steroid nasal spray may be advised if an allergy or other cause of persistent inflammation, such as chronic sinusitis or persistent rhinitis, is suspected.

Steroid nose drops

Complications

The most common complication of ETD is the risk for recurring symptoms.

In severe cases, complications may include:

  • Chronic otitis media, also known as a middle ear infection.
  • Glue ear: it refers to fluid buildup in the middle ear. It may last for a few weeks, but in more severe cases it can cause permanent hearing damage.
  • Eardrum retraction: it is when the eardrum is seemingly sucked back further into the canal.

Home remedies

Some minor symptoms may be resolved with home remedies.

  • Chewing gum.
  • Swallowing.
  • Yawning.
  • Using a saline nasal spray to help clean out passageways.
  • For babies: give your baby a bottle or pacifier to suck.

In addition, you can try doing the following: take a breath in, then breathe out gently with your mouth closed and pinching your nose. In this way you can push air into the eustachian tube gently. When you do this, you may feel your ears go ‘pop’ as air is forced into the middle ear.

You should notice that occasionally doing this can make you dizzy so make sure you are sitting down. This is a particularly good way if you suffer ETD when descending to land in a plane.

Please consult your doctors if you have any symptoms.

Keywords: eustachian tube dysfunction; ETD; eustachian tube.

* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.