What is eustachian tube problems?

Eustachian Tube Problems

Eustachian tube problems: Overview

The eustachian (say "you-STAY-shee-un") tubes connect the middle ear on each side to the back of the throat. They keep air pressure stable in the ears. If your eustachian tubes become blocked, the air pressure in your ears changes. A quick change in air pressure can cause eustachian tubes to close up. This might happen when an airplane changes altitude or when a scuba diver goes up or down underwater. And a cold can make the tubes swell and block the fluid in the middle ear from draining out. That can cause pain.

Eustachian tube problems often clear up on their own or after treating the cause of the blockage. If your tubes continue to be blocked, you may need surgery.

What are the symptoms of blocked eustachian tubes?

Blocked eustachian tubes can cause several symptoms. For example, your ears may hurt or feel full. You may have ringing or popping noises in your ears. Or you may have hearing problems or feel a little dizzy.

How are blocked eustachian tubes treated?

Blocked eustachian tubes often get better on their own. For adults, decongestants that you take by mouth or spray into your nose may be helpful. If you have allergies, the doctor may prescribe a steroid medicine that you spray into your nose. Follow the instructions carefully.

If you have an ear infection, the doctor may prescribe antibiotics. Take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.

In some cases, people need surgery for a blocked eustachian tube. The doctor makes a small cut in the eardrum to drain fluid and to make the pressure the same inside and outside the ear. Sometimes the doctor will put a small tube in the eardrum. The tube usually will fall out over time.

How can you lower your risk of blocked eustachian tubes?

If you have allergies, talk to your doctor about how to treat them so your sinuses stay clear and your eustachian tubes stay open. When you're in an airplane, you can chew gum, yawn, or drink liquids during takeoff and landing. Try the exercise where you gently blow while holding your nose shut.

How are blocked eustachian tubes diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms. Your doctor will look in your ears. The doctor also may check how well you hear.

How can you care for yourself when you have eustachian tube problems?

  • Try a simple exercise to help open blocked tubes. Close your mouth, hold your nose, and gently blow as if you are blowing your nose. Yawning and chewing gum also may help. You may hear or feel a "pop" when the tubes open.
  • To ease ear pain, apply a warm washcloth or a heating pad set on low. There may be some drainage from the ear when the heat melts earwax. Put a cloth between the heat source and your skin.
  • If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • Be safe with medicines. Depending on the cause of the problem, your doctor may recommend over-the-counter medicine. For example, adults may try decongestants for cold symptoms or nasal spray steroids for allergies. Follow the instructions carefully.
  • Be careful with cough and cold medicines. Don't give them to children younger than 6, because they don't work for children that age and can even be harmful. For children 6 and older, always follow all the instructions carefully. Make sure you know how much medicine to give and how long to use it. And use the dosing device if one is included.

What causes blocked eustachian tubes?

Swelling from a cold, allergies, or a sinus infection can keep the eustachian tubes from opening. This leads to pressure changes. Fluid may collect in the middle ear. The pressure and fluid can cause pain. You also can have ear pain from changes in pressure while you are flying in an airplane, driving up or down mountains, or scuba diving. Fluid in the ear can lead to an infection (acute otitis media). Young children have a high risk of ear infections, because their eustachian tubes are shorter and more easily blocked than the tubes in older children and adults.

What are blocked eustachian tubes?

The eustachian (say "you-STAY-shee-un") tubes connect the middle ears to the back of the throat. The tubes help the ears drain fluid. They also keep air pressure in the ears at the right level.

When you swallow or yawn, the tubes open briefly to let air in to make the pressure in the middle ears equal to the pressure outside of the ears. Sometimes fluid or negative pressure gets stuck in the middle ear. The pressure outside the ear gets too high. This blockage causes ear pain and sometimes trouble hearing.

Eustachian tube problems: When to call

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You develop sudden, complete hearing loss.
  • You have severe pain or feel dizzy.
  • You have new or increasing pus or blood draining from your ear.
  • You have redness, swelling, or pain around or behind the ear.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You do not get better after 2 weeks.
  • You have any new symptoms, such as itching or a feeling of fullness in the ear.

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