The Eustachian tube is a 3-4 cm long structure that connects the middle ear with the back of the nose. Its main function is to allow the mucus to flow away from the middle air as well as t5o help equalize the air pressure around the ear drum. This is essential to allow the middle ear to vibrate and thus listen with clarity. In some conditions, this Eustachian tube can become blocked and leads to the development of a condition described as Eustachian tube dysfunction.
What Causes Eustachian Tube Dysfunction?
The most common reason for the blockage of the Eustachian tube is following a cold or a viral infection. These infections can cause the lining of the Eustachian tube to get inflamed and produce thick mucus which does not get cleared as easily.
In most cases, Eustachian Tube dysfunction does not require any additional treatment and is a self-limiting condition. The first thing that patients will notice is that their hearing is dulled. Since the Eustachian tube is blocked, it does not allow the passage of air up till the ear drum. This condition is also sometimes referred to as "glue ear".
Allergies like hay fever or rhinitis can also result in a Eustachian tube blockage. Even though the offending cause is different than that of infection, inflammation and mucus build up in the tube will still be present.
Other much rarer causes of Eustachian Tube Dysfunction include the presence of enlarged adenoids that block the entry to the tube. Tumors may also occasionally do the same thing and should be considered if other possibilities have been ruled out.
The symptoms associated with Eustachian Tube dysfunction can last from a few hours to several weeks.
- Muffled hearing
- Constant ringing in the ear (tinnitus)
- Popping noises in the ear (as the situation returns to normal)
As mentioned earlier, a lot of the time no treatment is necessary and the symptoms resolve on their own. In other more severe cases, the use of antihistamine medication to reduce the amount of mucus being formed is effective. Patients may also be required to nasal decongestant sprays and drops. Most of these sprays are available over the counter and will help relieve the symptoms in a short span of time.
Patients should be aware that their use over a prolonged period of time carries the risk of a "rebound effect" wherein the congestion actually becomes worse.
Steroid nasal sprays may also be indicated in cases where the chief source of blockage seems to be an inflamed nose. Sometimes simple things like deliberately yawning or blowing your nose with nostrils pinched and mouth closed can help force some air into the Eustachian tube and make your ears "pop".
This technique can be of great help to people who suffer from pain during plane landings.
If none of the above-mentioned techniques work then it is time to visit an ENT specialist and have them take a look. A deeper examination of the anatomic structure in and around the ear may be warranted.
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