What Is Eustachian Tube Dysfunction?

Young man with hand to ear suffering from Eustachian tube dysfunction

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Eustachian tube dysfunction is more common in children as their Eustachian tube is shorter, narrower and more horizontal than in adults.

Eustachian tubes are small tubes running between the upper throat and the middle ear. They are responsible for keeping the air pressure equal between the middle ear and outer ear canal. These tubes also help drain the fluid from the middle ear. Usually, these tubes are closed but open with activities such as chewing, swallowing, yawning, nose-blowing and equalising.

Eustachian tubes can become inflamed and swollen because of a cold, sore throat, sinusitis, allergic rhinitis  (hay fever), allergies, deviated nasal septum or nasal polyps. As a result of inflammation and swelling, the tubes may become blocked, called Eustachian tube dysfunction or ETD.


human anatomy diagram of a Eustachian tube

Signs and Symptoms of Eustachian Tube Dysfunction

Eustachian tube dysfunction happens when Eustachian tubes don’t open easily and prevent air from getting into the middle ear. One sign of ETD is a retracted eardrum, where the eardrum is sucked in towards the middle ear. As a result, the air pressure on either side of the eardrum becomes unequal.

Symptoms of Eustachian tube dysfunction may include:

  • Dulled or muffled hearing, feeling of fullness in the ear (some will report a feeling of water trapped in the ear).
  • Hearing unusual sounds, including ringing, buzzing, popping or crackling sounds.
  • Some episodes of dizziness and pain in the ear.

Common Causes of ETD

Common causes of ETD include respiratory infections such as flu and colds or other problems like asthma, hay fever, allergies and tonsillitis.

Anatomical abnormalities can be a factor, too, such as large adenoids or facial abnormalities.

Children are particularly prone to ETD because their tubes are smaller and more horizontal than in adults.

Treatment of Eustachian Tube Dysfunction

Eustachian tube dysfunction usually resolves by itself. But in some cases, it will take time for a Eustachian tube to go back to normal function, and it may require some treatment. Some of the natural remedies include:

  • nose-blowing after showering or bathing
  • exercises like the Valsalva maneuver
  • inhaling steam from Vicks, Karvol or Tea Tree oil in warm water to help clear the nose and soothe the mucous membranes.

Pharmacological management usually includes the use of nasal sprays that can alleviate nasal congestion.

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Simon O'Rorke
Simon O'Rorke
2 years ago

The first sentence of the Eustachian tube dysfunction article needs fixing. Something like replacing ‘it’ with ‘the tubes’.

Marcus Chadwick
Reply to  Simon O'Rorke
2 years ago

Hi Simon, Good pick up! Thank you.

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