What are the eustachian tubes, and how do they get blocked?
The eustachian (say "you-STAY-shee-un") tubes connect the middle ears to the back of the throat. The tubes help the ears drain fluid. They also keep air pressure in the ears at the right level.
When you swallow or yawn, the tubes open briefly to let air in to make the pressure in the middle ears equal to the pressure outside of the ears. Sometimes fluid or negative pressure gets stuck in the middle ear. The pressure outside the ear gets too high. This causes ear pain and sometimes trouble hearing.
See a picture of the eustachian tube .
What causes blocked eustachian tubes?
Swelling from a cold, allergies, or a sinus infection can keep the eustachian tubes from opening. This leads to pressure changes. Fluid may collect in the middle ear. The pressure and fluid can cause pain. You also can have ear pain from changes in pressure while you are flying in an airplane, driving up or down mountains, or scuba diving. Fluid in the ear can lead to an infection (acute otitis media). Young children have a high risk of ear infections, because their eustachian tubes are shorter and more easily blocked than the tubes in older children and adults.
What are the symptoms?
Blocked eustachian tubes can cause several symptoms, including:
- Ears that hurt and feel full.
- Ringing or popping noises in your ears.
- Hearing problems.
- Feeling a little dizzy.
How are blocked tubes diagnosed?
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms. He or she will look in your ears. The doctor also may check how well you hear.
How are they treated?
Blocked eustachian tubes often get better on their own. You may be able to open the blocked tubes with a simple exercise. Close your mouth, hold your nose, and gently blow as if you are blowing your nose. Yawning and chewing gum also may help. You may hear or feel a "pop" when the tubes open to make the pressure equal between the inside and outside of your ears.