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Eustachian Tube Dysfunction: causes and treatment

The  Eustachian tubes are the small tubes connecting your middle ear to the back of your nose and upper throat. These tubes are responsible for equalising ear pressure and preventing fluid buildup in the middle ear, and usually remain closed unless you sneeze, swallow, chew or yawn. Although Eustachian tubes serve an important function, illnesses and viral infections such as the common cold can cause the tubes to become blocked. This can result in pain, hearing difficulties, and a buildup of pressure in the ears. This condition is known as Eustachian Tube Dysfunction, and usually resolves itself; however, severe or recurring cases may require the specialist help of a doctor or audiologist.


Symptoms of Eustachian Tube Dysfunction

  • A feeling of fullness in the ears – your ears may feel “plugged” due to a buildup of fluid and pressure.
  • Hearing difficulties – sounds may appear muffled or distorted.
  • Tinnitus – in some cases, Eustachian Tube Dysfunction can trigger ringing in one or both ears.
  • Clicking or popping sounds in one or both ears.
  • Pain – this often results from the buildup of pressure behind the middle ear.

Common causes of Eustachian Tube Dysfunction

Eustachian Tube Dysfunction can occur for a variety of reasons, and tends to be more prevalent in children. This is because children have weaker immune systems and their Eustachian tubes are smaller, meaning germs and mucus can become easily trapped. Research also suggests smokers may be at a higher risk of developing Eustachian Tube Dysfunction due to increased interference with the drainage of fluid from the middle ear. Some of the most common causes of Eustachian Tube Dysfunction include:

  • Common cold or sinus infections – Upper respiratory tract infections can cause the  Eustachian tubes to become inflamed and blocked due to a buildup of mucus.
  • Allergies –  Individuals suffering from allergies may experience more mucus, leading to increased congestion and a higher risk of Eustachian Tube Dysfunction
  • Changes in altitude – High altitude activities such as hiking or flying in an aeroplane can cause temporary dysfunction of the Eustachian tubes.

When should I seek help?

Generally, Eustachian Tube Dysfunction will resolve itself either on its own or through treatment for the identified cause (i.e. cold medicine or antihistamines). However, if the problem recurs or continues to persist for a prolonged period of time, you should seek the advice of a doctor or audiologist. In more severe cases, Eustachian Tube Dysfunction can result in fluid accumulation in the middle ear, otherwise known as an effusion, and may require additional medical treatment.

Organise a hearing check with your Perth audiologists

Whether you’re experiencing hearing difficulties or concerned about your long-term hearing health, the hearing specialists at The Art of Hearing can provide the advice and hearing solutions you need to protect your long-term hearing. If you suspect you may be suffering from hearing loss, organise a hearing check and consultation with our experienced audiologists at any of our five hearing clinics in Perth.

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