Eustachian tubes are the narrow passageways that run between the middle ear and upper throat. Their purpose is to equalize pressure and drain fluid from your middle ear. The Eustachian tubes typically remain closed until you chew, swallow or yawn.
These tubes can sometimes become blocked, a condition that is called Eustachian tube dysfunction (ETD).
What Are the Symptoms of ETD?
Symptoms of ETD may be temporary or long lasting, and typically include:
- Fullness in the ear
- Changes to your hearing
- Ears feeling plugged
- Tinnitus, or ringing in the ear
- Itchiness or a ticklish feeling in the ear
- Ear pain
What Causes ETD?
Eustachian Tube Dysfunction (ETD) occurs when the Eustachian tube, a narrow passageway connecting the middle ear with the nose is blocked or malfunctions and fails to allow pressure to equalize on both sides of the ear drum.
Most everyone has experienced ETD when they have a cold, allergies or gone up in an airplane. It is the “plugged” sensation you feel. The middle ear is a pressure-filled space that, under normal circumstances, has the same pressure as the environment around you. When the air pressure changes quickly, a normal functioning Eustachian tube will “pop” and re-equalize the pressure around the ear drum. If one has ETD, the Eustachian tube will remain closed in the circumstance and there will be a consistent plugged feeling.
Allergies and colds are the most common causes of ETD, as they can cause your Eustachian tubes to become inflamed or plugged with mucus. People who get frequent sinus infections also commonly suffer from ETD.
How Is ETD Treated?
While ETD typically resolves itself without treatment, there are solutions to help ease your discomfort. Treatment depends on the severity and underlying cause.
Home remedies can be used for minor ETD symptoms, and include:
- Chewing gum
- Swallowing repeatedly
- Exhaling while plugging the nose and mouth
- Using a saline nasal spray
- For babies, giving them a pacifier to suck on
Over-the-counter options are also available. If ETD is caused by allergies, antihistamines such as Benadryl and Zyrtec may help you find relief. OTC pain relievers like Tylenol and Advil may also help relieve mild pain caused by ETD.
If your symptoms last more than two weeks, see a doctor. Your physician may prescribe an antibiotic in the form of ear drops or oral tablets. In severe cases, a doctor may prescribe oral corticosteroids or pressure equalization tubes.