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Patient education: Eustachian tube problems (The Basics)

Patient education: Eustachian tube problems (The Basics)

What is the eustachian tube? — The eustachian tube is a tube that connects the middle ear (the part of the ear behind the eardrum) to the back of the nose and throat (figure 1).

Normally, the eustachian tube helps keep the air pressure inside the middle ear the same as the air pressure outside the middle ear. If there is a problem with the eustachian tube, the air pressure inside the middle ear won't be the same as the air pressure outside of it. This can cause ear pain, hearing loss, and other symptoms. "Ear barotrauma" is the medical term for when people have symptoms or damage in the middle ear because of air pressure differences.

Most eustachian tube problems last only a short time and get better on their own. But eustachian tube problems sometimes lead to more serious conditions, such as:

A middle ear infection

A torn eardrum

Hearing loss

In children, long-term hearing loss from eustachian tube problems can also lead to language or speech problems.

What causes eustachian tube problems? — Common causes of eustachian tube problems are:

Illnesses or conditions that make the eustachian tubes swollen or inflamed – These include colds, allergies, ear infections, or sinus infections. The sinuses are hollow areas in the bones of the face.

Sudden air pressure changes – Sudden air pressure changes can happen when people fly in an airplane, scuba dive, or drive up to the mountains.

Growths that block the eustachian tube

Being born with an abnormal eustachian tube

What are the symptoms of a eustachian tube problem? — Common symptoms of a eustachian tube problem include:

Ear pain

Feeling pressure or fullness in the ear

Trouble hearing

Ringing in the ear

Feeling dizzy

Should I see a doctor or nurse? — See your doctor or nurse if your symptoms are severe, get worse, or if they don't go away after a few days.

Will I need tests? — Probably not. Your doctor or nurse should be able to tell if you have a eustachian tube problem by learning about your symptoms and doing an exam.

If your symptoms are severe or last for a long time, your doctor or nurse might:

Have you see a special kind of doctor called an ear, nose, and throat ("ENT") doctor

Do tests to check your hearing

Do an imaging test – Imaging tests can create pictures of the inside of the body.

How are eustachian tube problems treated? — Treatment depends on what's causing the eustachian tube problem. Depending on your individual situation, your doctor might treat you with 1 or more of the following:

Nose sprays

Antihistamines – These medicines are usually used to treat allergies. They help stop itching, sneezing, and runny nose symptoms.

Decongestants – These medicines can help with stuffy nose symptoms.

Surgery – Most people do not need surgery for eustachian tube problems. But people might need surgery if their symptoms don't get better with medicines or they have severe or long-term symptoms.

Antibiotics are not needed to treat eustachian tube problems. But they might be needed if a person has an ear infection.

More on this topic

Patient education: Ear infections (otitis media) in children (The Basics)
Patient education: Cough, runny nose, and the common cold (The Basics)
Patient education: Seasonal allergies in adults (The Basics)
Patient education: Vertigo (a type of dizziness) (The Basics)

Patient education: Ear infections (otitis media) in children (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: The common cold in adults (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: The common cold in children (Beyond the Basics)

This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Mar 03, 2022.
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