Sinus Surgery

How to Fix Eustachian Tube Dysfunction

March 1, 2024

9 minutes

Reviewed by Michael Kaplan, MD

Eustachian Tube Dysfunction (ETD) can be both uncomfortable and persistent, causing symptoms such as ear pain, a feeling of fullness, tinnitus, and hearing difficulties. The Eustachian tube connects the middle ear to the back of the nose and serves as a critical component in maintaining ear health by equalizing air pressure and facilitating the drainage of fluid from the middle ear. 

When this tube is not functioning correctly, the discomfort can be significant, but there are several effective methods for managing and potentially resolving the issue including:

  • Chewing gum or yawning
  • Nasal decongestants
  • Nasal steroid sprays
  • Auto-inflation
  • Regular allergy management
  • Procedures such as eustachian tube balloon dilation

Interested in learning more about how to fix Eustachian Tube Dysfunction? In this article, Dr. Kaplan, Houston sinus specialist and otolaryngologist will explain each technique in detail and how they can help alleviate your symptoms.

How do you unclog the eustachian tube? Treatment options for Eustachian Tube Dysfunction.

ETD can significantly impact your day-to-day life, leading to discomfort and potentially, hearing loss if left untreated. Since the symptoms of Eustachian Tube Dysfunction are caused by a buildup of fluid and pressure, the main concern is draining said fluid from the tube and reducing the pressure buildup in the middle ear. Fortunately, there are several treatment options available that cater to different severity levels of ETD.

Whether you are experiencing mild discomfort or more severe symptoms, understanding the various methods to unclog the eustachian tube can provide you with relief and improve your quality of life. 

1. Chewing gum or yawning

Chewing gum and yawning are among the simplest and most easily accessible methods for managing mild symptoms of ETD. These actions help by opening the eustachian tube, which allows air to flow into the middle ear and balances the ear pressure. 

If you’re experiencing slight discomfort or a feeling of fullness in your ears, especially during changes in altitude such as during takeoff or landing on flights, these methods can provide immediate relief. Importantly, they are non-invasive and can be done almost anywhere, offering a quick and convenient way to alleviate minor symptoms.

2. Nasal decongestants and medications

Suppose you are experiencing more severe symptoms of Eustachian Tube Dysfunction, such as persistent pain, pressure, or difficulty hearing. In that case, a nasal decongestant may be recommended by your doctor to help reduce swelling and inflammation in the nasal passages and eustachian tubes. 

These over-the-counter (OTC) medications come in the form of sprays, drops, or pills and are typically taken for a few days until symptoms subside. However, prolonged use of nasal decongestants is not advised as they can cause rebound congestion and worsen ETD symptoms.

If your Eustachian Tube Dysfunction stems from allergies, cold/flu symptoms, or chronic middle ear infections, your doctor may prescribe medications to address those issues. What you take could depend on the severity of your ETD or the other underlying issues that the symptoms are coupled with. 

Common OTC medications recommended for allergies in particular include: 

  • Allergy medications can keep your allergy symptoms at bay, making it less likely you’ll develop any allergy-related pains or infections. 
  • Antihistamines can be helpful to some patients to reduce inflammation from any allergic reactions.

Although these medications are available OTC, it’s important to follow your doctor’s (or the pharmacist’s) recommendations on how you take them. Combining or overusing allergy medications can wind up making your symptoms worse, not better. 

3. Nasal steroid sprays

Nasal steroids, prescribed for more persistent Eustachian Tube Dysfunction (ETD) symptoms, reduce inflammation in the nasal passages, thereby aiding in the relief of congestion and discomfort. These medications work by decreasing the body’s immune response, leading directly to reduced tissue swelling in the eustachian tubes. 

Given their potency and the subtler onset of symptom relief, nasal steroids are generally considered for long-term management rather than immediate symptom alleviation. Unlike nasal decongestants, they are less likely to cause rebound congestion, making them a safer option for prolonged use under medical supervision.

Continue reading: The best medicine for sinus drainage

4. Auto inflation

Auto inflation is a technique that can help improve Eustachian Tube Dysfunction symptoms by encouraging the opening of the Eustachian tubes to equalize pressure. This method involves the patient taking a deep breath, pinching the nostrils closed, and gently exhaling to push air through the eustachian tubes. Keep in mind that this will only address the “full feeling” in your ears, not the potential underlying issue. 

While auto inflation may provide relief for some, it’s not suitable for everyone, especially individuals with certain medical conditions such as a severe cold or sinus infection. It’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional before attempting this technique to ensure it’s safe and appropriate for your specific situation.

5. Regular allergy management

Managing allergies effectively is crucial in controlling Eustachian Tube Dysfunction for individuals with allergic reactions as a contributing factor. Regular use of antihistamines can reduce the body’s allergic response, thereby lessening nasal congestion and inflammation that can exacerbate ETD symptoms. 

In addition to medication, minimizing exposure to allergens through environmental control methods — such as using air purifiers, maintaining clean living spaces, and avoiding known trigger substances — plays a significant role in managing ETD linked to allergies. Consulting with an allergist or sinus specialist can further tailor allergy management strategies to one’s specific needs, enhancing the efficacy of ETD treatment plans. They will also be able to talk to you about how to cure allergic rhinitis permanently.

6. Surgical options

In severe cases of Eustachian Tube Dysfunction, where other treatment methods have failed, surgery may be considered. The most common surgical procedure for ETD is called a “tympanostomy,” “myringotomy,” or “ear tube placement.” This involves creating a small hole in the eardrum and inserting a tiny tube to help equalize pressure and drain fluid from the middle ear. This procedure is typically performed on an outpatient basis under local anesthesia, and recovery time is usually short. 

Other surgical options for ETD may include:

1. Eustachian tube balloon dilation

Eustachian tube balloon dilation opens up the tunnel that connects the middle ear with the back of the nose. During the procedure, your doctor will use anesthesia to numb your nose. He or she will then place a tiny deflated balloon on the end of an endoscopic instrument in the clogged Eustachian tube pathway. Your doctor will then gently inflate the balloon, allowing pressure to release and drainage to clear and eliminate your pain. Unlike a myringotomy or the insertion of tubes, the procedure does not involve incisions that close up over time. 

As mentioned, eustachian tube balloon dilation is a relatively new, minimally invasive procedure designed to treat persistent Eustachian Tube Dysfunction symptoms in patients who do not respond to traditional treatments.

Similar to balloon sinuplasty, eustachian tube balloon dilation is non-invasive, requires no incisions, takes as little as 3 minutes, and can take place in the office. Recovery time is typically minimal, with most patients experiencing rapid relief from symptoms and a quick return to normal activities. For an increasing number of patients, the benefits of eustachian tube balloon dilation make it the best option for treating their Eustachian Tube Dysfunction.

2. Pressure equalization tubes

This procedure is similar to the myringotomy where the fluid is drained from the middle ear via incision. After the incision, a hollow tube made out of plastic or metal is inserted into the eardrum and provides ventilation for about 6-12 months. The tube is slowly pushed out as the incision heals. Again, this may only be a temporary fix and not the long-term solution to how to fix eustachian tube dysfunction. 

Causes of chronic Eustachian Tube Dysfunction

The Eustachian tube is a small tube that connects your throat to the middle ear inside of your eardrum. This tube opens when you yawn, sneeze, or swallow to help keep air pressure and fluids from building up in your ears. A buildup of mucus and/or inflammation in your ears can block the tube. This buildup can be caused by a cold, the flu, allergies, and sinus infections. For more information on sinusitis and ear infections, check out our article on how sinus infections and ear infections can be connected

When the Eustachian tube becomes blocked, air cannot get into the middle ear space from the ear canals, causing a difference in air pressure on the outer side of the eardrum and the inner side of the eardrum and resulting in symptoms ranging from muffled sound to ear pain. This difference in pressure creates the pain and symptoms associated with Eustachian Tube Dysfunction. It can sometimes feel similar to ear pain caused by barometric pressure sinus issues

Though ETD is most common in children, people who smoke or are obese are at higher risk for developing Eustachian tube dysfunction in adults.

FAQ: Is Eustachian Tube Dysfunction serious? 

ETD is a common phenomenon and can often go away on its own. However, long-term and untreated ETD can be associated with middle ear infections and damage to the eardrum over time. 

Interested in fixing your Eustachian Tube Dysfunction? Call Kaplan Sinus Relief today.

If you’re looking for answers on how to fix Eustachian Tube Dysfunction, Eustachian tube balloon dilation in Houston could be the long-term solution for you. Kaplan Sinus Relief is proud to offer Eustachian tube balloon dilation to Houstonians and help treat any underlying sinus issues that may be causing ETD in the first place. 

Call Dr. Kaplan and his team at 713-766-1818 with any questions or schedule an appointment online today. Lasting relief could be one phone call away.

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