The Eustachian tube connects the air space in the middle ear to your nasal cavity. This allows air to move in and out as necessary, keeping the pressure equal on both sides of the eardrum and so protecting it from rupture. In some people the Eustachian tube blocks and this stops the air movement.
Children are at higher risk than adults due their narrower tubes being more easily blocked by mucus and inflammation. Anti-inflammatories and decongestants can help in some cases of the disorder. Sometimes hearing aids and/or grommets may be required.
There are several problems this causes;
- Glue ear. Lack of ventilation results in the air in the middle ear space being absorbed into the surrounding skin and being replaced with fluid. This muffles hearing by stopping the effective vibration of the tympanic membrane.
- Recurrent infection. The fluid in glue ear may become repeatedly infected. This can result in repeated courses of antibiotics.
- Ruptured eardrum. Because there is no communication of the middle ear with the ambient pressure the drum is prone to rupture if there is a sudden or rapid alteration in pressure. This happens during scuba diving and in an aeroplane. Ear plugs can help.
So what can be done?
The treatment depends on the symptoms and signs the patient shows. If hearing loss is the major issue then hearing aids may be used and if recurrent ear infections are the problem then tympanostomy and grommets might be employed. If the degree of Eustachian tube dysfunction is mild it may be managed with anti-inflammatories and decongestants.