Sinus Infections

Altitude & Eustachian Tube Problems

August 12, 2018

4 minutes

Reviewed by Michael Kaplan, MD

Eustachian tube problems have a variety of causes ranging from allergies to sinus infections and ear infections, but there’s a subset of individuals who struggle with Eustachian tube problems due to frequent changes in altitude, including frequent flyers, hikers, divers, and even people who drive frequently through the mountains. Learn exactly what causes Eustachian tube problems in adults who perform these activities, and what you can do to find relief.

Understanding basic Eustachian tube problems

Eustachian tube problems cause a lot of trouble for individuals susceptible to Eustachian tube inflammation who also have a job that requires them to fly often.

What causes Eustachian tube inflammation? Often, the culprit is allergies, colds, or sinus infections. These conditions can cause an excess of mucus, which can block the Eustachian tube—which connects the middle ear to the back of the throat—and causes it to become inflamed. When this inflammation occurs, outside air cannot get into the middle ear, causing a difference in pressure between the inner and outer ear.

Eustachian tube problems for pilots, flight attendants, and frequent flyers, hikers, and divers

Now, imagine how the difference in pressure between the inner and outer ear grows when a patient with Eustachian tube problems gets on a plane and flies up to 35,000–41,000 feet into the air.

Air travel and changes in altitude, combined with chronic allergies or a chronic sinus infection, can cause chronic Eustachian tube problems. However, chronic Eustachian tube dysfunction can also occur solely due to altitude—regardless of whether or not the patient has allergies as well. The same is true of individuals who regularly hike in high altitudes, and has even been reported by individuals who frequently drive through the mountains or take elevators to high floors.

For some, popping the ears, chewing gum, and opening the jaw wide (yawning) can help balance out the different pressures during flights or hiking. Medication that treats Eustachian tube problems is also available.

Elevation isn’t the only trigger for Eustachian tube problems. When divers dive deep (100 ft. –400 ft.) below the surface, the rapid increase of pressure makes it impossible for the pressure in the inner and outer ear to balance, or “equalize.” There are some positions that professional scuba divers learn which can help established pressure equalization.

Eustachian tube dysfunction symptoms

Typical Eustachian tube dysfunction symptoms include the following:

  • A plugged, clogged, or full sensation in your ears
  • Muffled sounds
  • A popping, clicking, or tickling sensation in the ears
  • Balance issues

Less common symptoms, the appearance of which can indicate chronic Eustachian tube dysfunction, include:

  • Pain in one or both ears
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • Hearing loss

Eustachian tube dysfunction treatment

Blocked Eustachian tube treatment is, for the most part, more straightforward than the various Eustachian tube dysfunction causes. In fact, if you’re at all familiar with the balloon sinuplasty procedure, then our favored Eustachian tube treatment, called Eustachian tube balloon dilation, is going to sound somewhat familiar.

During Eustachian tube balloon dilation, your nose is anesthetized and your doctor inserts a very tiny balloon through your nasal canal and into the clogged Eustachian tube. Your doctor will then inflate the balloon, opening and unclogging your Eustachian tube and providing relief from Eustachian tube pain.  

This Eustachian tube dysfunction surgery is non-invasive, requires no incisions, takes as little as 3 minutes, can take place in-office, and requires little to no recovery time.

Think you might be struggling with Eustachian tube problems? Call Kaplan Sinus Relief.  

The reviews left by our patients who formerly suffered from Eustachian tube problems are just as positive as our balloon sinuplasty reviews. (For more information, read more about Eustachian tube balloon dilation.) Don’t let Eustachian tube dysfunction ruin your next flying, hiking, or diving experience; Dr. Kaplan, a preeminent ENT doctor in Houston and his outstanding staff at Kaplan Sinus Relief can have you back in the air, on the trail, and in the ocean in less than 15 minutes!

Call (713) 597-8914 to schedule an appointment today.

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