- Who Gets Them?
- Side Effects
What is a blocked eustachian tube?
Eustachian tubes connect the middle ear to the throat. When you yawn or swallow, the tubes open to match the pressure inside the ears to the pressure outside. Sometimes fluid or pressure can get stuck in the ear or swelling can occur, which blocks the tubes. The pressure outside the tubes gets too high and causes pain.
Symptoms of blocked eustachian tubes
Blocked eustachian tube symptoms include:
Small children may repeatedly pull or rub their ears.
Causes of blocked eustachian tubes
Sinus infections, colds, and allergies can cause swelling in the eustachian tubes. This stops the tubes from opening, which can lead to fluid buildup in the ear. This may cause ear pain, a plugged feeling, or an ear infection.
Air pressure in the ear may also change while scuba diving, flying on airplanes, or driving up or down a mountain.
Other conditions may cause blocked eustachian tubes, including:
Who can get blocked eustachian tubes?
Anyone can get a blocked eustachian tube. These are often caused by swelling and fluid buildup from a common cold or allergies. People who scuba dive or fly in airplanes may also have a higher chance of experiencing blocked eustachian tubes. A quick change in pressure can cause the tube to close up.
Children are most likely to have blocked eustachian tubes. Their tubes are shorter and more easily blocked.
Tests for blocked eustachian tubes
Your doctor will do a physical exam to check for symptoms of blocked eustachian tubes. They will look for swelling and redness in your ears as well as your throat. They may also look for swollen adenoids, check your temperature, and ask about other symptoms like pain and pressure.
If you have chronically blocked eustachian tubes, your doctor may test your hearing, or look for underlying causes.
Treatments for blocked eustachian tubes
Eustachian tube treatment often isn’t needed as a blocked tube usually gets better on its own. However, there are steps you can take to help your symptoms.
Some over-the-counter medications may be helpful for blocked eustachian tube treatment. These may include:
If you need additional help, your doctor may prescribe:
- Antibiotics if an ear infection develops
- Corticosteroids to help with swelling
The simplest way to manage a blocked eustachian tube is home treatment. You can equalize pressure, loosen fluid, and relieve pain with different methods. These may include:
- Chewing gum
- Swallowing and yawning
- Blowing up a balloon
- Closing your mouth, plugging your nose, and blowing air until the ear pops
- Sucking on a candy
- A warm washcloth on the ear
Do not give chewing gum or hard candies to children under age four.
If you have allergies, avoiding allergens may also help sinuses and chronic ear problems. You may need to talk to your doctor about other treatments that could help.
Sometimes you may need surgery as part of eustachian tube treatment. Usually, this only happens if the problem is chronic and nothing helps. Children who have chronic ear infections may have a small ear tube inserted to help drain fluid. This will eventually fall out on its own after a few months.
Sometimes your doctor may also make a small cut in the eardrum and let the fluid drain out. If you have a deviated septum or a cleft palate that affects your eustachian tubes, they may want to do surgeries to correct these and relieve your symptoms.
Side effects of treatments for blocked eustachian tubes
There is always a risk of serious complications from surgery. However, surgery can often be done with a local anesthetic to reduce the risk of general anesthesia. Crusting, infection, obstruction, and a ruptured eardrum are all possible side effects of ear tube surgery. These are rare, however.
If you try blowing to clear your ears, you can burst your eardrum if you blow too hard. Be gentle. If you have a cold or infection, you might also send mucus into the ear and cause an ear infection.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Health Technology Assessment: "Interventions for adult Eustachian tube dysfunction: a systematic review."
Stanford Health Care: "Eustachian Tube Problems."
Stanford Health Care: "Treatments for Eustachian Tube Dysfunction."
Texas Sinus Institute: "Eustachian Tube Dysfunction."