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Delving into the Auditory World: Understanding Eustachian Tube Dysfunction, and Treatment Options

Updated: Jan 18

The Eustachian tube is your gateway to ear health. The Eustachian tube is a small but crucial passageway connecting the middle ear to the back of the nose. It plays a pivotal role in maintaining ear health. Normally closed, it opens during activities like swallowing, sneezing, or yawning. We each possess two Eustachian tubes, one linked to the right ear and the other to the left.


This blog delves into the dual functions of the Eustachian tube. Firstly, it facilitates the ventilation of the middle ear, ensuring equal pressure on both sides of the eardrum for proper functioning and vibration. Secondly, it serves as a drainage route for mucous, safeguarding the middle ear against fluid, bacteria, and other pathogens.


However, when the Eustachian tube malfunctions, it gives rise to Eustachian Tube Dysfunction (ETD). ETD can lead to symptoms such as a blocked or full sensation in the ear, muffled sound, pain, and even a sensation of imbalance. Causes range from allergies and infections to sinus inflammation and muscular issues.


In this blog, we explore how to identify Eustachian Tube Dysfunction and discuss treatment options available. From simple measures like nasal sprays, rest, and hydration to professional hearing and ear assessments at Family Hearing Centre, we guide you through understanding and treating ETD symptoms.



Diagram of the Eustachian Tube.
Image from Cleveland Clinic.


Understanding the Eustachian Tube

The Eustachian tube is a small passageway that connects the middle ear to the back of the nose. It is normally closed, but opens when sneezing, swallowing or yawning. We each have two Eustachian tubes, one connected to the right ear and one connected to the left ear.



What does the Eustachian tube do?

  • The Eustachian tube ventilates the middle ear which allows pressure on either side of the eardrum to be equal. This enables the proper functioning and vibration of the eardrum.

  • The Eustachian tube allows mucous to drain from the middle ear into the back of the nose, protecting the middle ear from fluid, bacteria and other pathogens.


What signs indicate a blocked or malfunctioning Eustachian tube?

Eustachian Tube Dysfunction (ETD) describes the condition where the Eustachian tube(s) does not work properly. In Obstructive ETD, the Eustachian tubes can become swollen, inflamed, blocked or otherwise result in reduced air pressure in your middle ear. This can cause your eardrum to retract (be pulled inwards) and result in one or some of the following symptoms:


  • A blocked or full sensation in the ear(s) which can be constant or intermittent

  • Muffled sound and/or hearing difficulties

  • Hearing your own voice amplified in your head

  • Popping, clicking, or squelching sensation

  • Pain in the ear(s)

  • Ringing in the ear(s) – tinnitus

  • A sensation of imbalance



What is the main cause of Eustachian Tube Dysfunction?

Some of the main causes of Eustachian Tube Dysfunction are:


  • Allergies

  • Infections e.g. common cold/flu and upper respiratory tract infections

  • Inflammation of the sinuses i.e. sinusitis

  • Muscles associated with Eustachian tube opening not working properly

  • Compression of the Eustachian tube e.g. due to enlarged/inflamed adenoids

  • Other risk factors such as acid reflux, tobacco smoke and radiation exposure



Chronic Eustachian Tube Dysfunction symptoms and treatment options

Eustachian tube dysfunction (ETD) assessment at Family Hearing Centre
Chatu Nelumdeniya, Senior Audiologist at Family Hearing Centre

When you have a blocked ear and some of the symptoms Eustachian Tube dysfunction described above, it can be hard to determine if your ear is blocked with ear wax requiring removal, or whether your Eustachian tube is not working properly.


As senior Auckland audiologists at Family Hearing Centre, we can assess your ear canal, eardrum movement and middle ear health which tells us what could be causing the blocked sensation when you book in for an appointment at Family Hearing Centre.



Eustachian Tube Dysfunction treatment at home

Simple methods such as nasal sprays applied in the correct way, rest and drinking plenty of fluids can be a starting point to addressing the symptoms associated with ETD. Blowing your nose regularly can be more helpful than sniffing inwards, if you are recovering from a cold. Swallowing, chewing, or forced exhalation against a closed mouth and nose (Valsalva manoeuver) can help to relieve symptoms for some.


For cases that are ongoing, recurrent, concerning/frustrating or problematic, your Audiologist at Family Hearing Centre may further refer you to an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist for further investigation and management.



If you have blocked ears or suspect that you may have Eustachian Tube Dysfunction and would like an appointment at our Auckland ear and hearing clinic, call 09 217 6944 or book your Audiology appointment with us today!

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