Eustachian Tube Dysfunction: Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment

A recently developed procedure may help millions of people struggling with Eustachian tube dysfunction (ETD) without the need for surgery or constant medication. Eustachian tube balloon dilation is an FDA-approved procedure that has been shown to help people with chronic ETD by resolving the source of the problem rather than treating symptoms alone.

What Is Eustachian Tube Dysfunction (ETD)?

ETD involves the Eustachian tubes, which connect the middle ear (behind the eardrum) with the back of the nose. It allows air to flow in behind the eardrum, equalizing the air pressure on both sides.

In ETD, the Eustachian tube either becomes inflamed or blocked, creating an imbalance in air pressure. This causes the eardrum to be drawn into the ear canal, pulling it taut and impeding hearing.

ETD affects roughly 11 million adults in the U.S., coming out to a 4.6% prevalence nationwide, so it’s a widespread issue.

Eustachian Tube Dysfunction Causes

ETD has several potential causes, including the following.

Cold and Sinus Infections: ETD often results from the common cold or sinus infections. In these instances, the Eustachian tube becomes inflamed or blocked by thick mucus, restricting airflow. Typically, this only lasts a week or two after the infection clears up.

Smoking: It can also be caused by smoking, including second-hand smoke. For instance, one study found that about 6.1% of children aged 12 to 19 who were exposed to environmental tobacco smoke had ETD.

Glue Ear: Often, children might experience ETD as a result of glue ear, in which a glue-like substance fills the middle ear, congesting the Eustachian tube and tightening the eardrum.

Seasonal Allergies: Finally, allergies are another frequent cause. Seasonal allergies such as hay fever lead to congestion and inflammation that may restrict airflow through the Eustachian tube for months at a time.

For instance, Los Angeles experiences high tree pollen counts from December through June. After that come grass pollens through September, which are then followed by weed pollens through November. Las Vegas has two allergy seasons—one in the spring, and then ragweed season in the fall. Depending on where you live and your exact allergies, that can mean months of nonstop congestion and ETD.

ETD Symptoms

ETD is often characterized by the following symptoms:

  • Muffled or dull hearing as the eardrum is pulled taut
  • Sensation of fullness or water inside your ear
  • Tinnitus (or ringing in your ear)
  • Dizziness
  • Intermittent ear pain (typically not constant)

These symptoms often only last a few hours, but chronic ETD could result in these symptoms lasting for weeks or even months.

How Can ETD Be Treated?

In most cases, ETD goes away on its own. For instance, Eustachian tube dysfunction might last a week or two after a cold as mucus residue drains out. However, if it persists, there are a number of possibilities, such as nasal sprays, antihistamines, or nose drops, but these may only provide temporary relief. A more permanent solution to chronic ETD is Eustachian tube balloon dilation.

How Eustachian Tube Balloon Dilation Helps with ETD

Eustachian tube balloon dilation utilizes a narrow rod with a balloon at the end that’s inserted into the Eustachian tube through the nose. The balloon is then filled up with a saline solution to expand the tube. After being left for a few minutes, the balloon is deflated and removed.

Success Rate

Studies show that balloon dilation is highly effective, with one study showing an 81% success rate a year after the procedure. Another study found similar rates of success after 5 years, making this procedure a safe and effective way to treat ETD.

Advantages of ET Balloon Dilation

Eustachian tube balloon dilation promises to be an effective alternative to ear tubes for adults as well as other treatments that only tackle symptoms. With enduring results from a single procedure and no need for constant medication, it is a safe, effective, and efficient way to treat Eustachian tube dysfunction.

Eustachian Tube Dysfunction and Balloon Dilation FAQs 

Common questions on ETD and Eustachian tube balloon dilation include the following.

Can allergies cause Eustachian tube dysfunction?

Yes. The inflammation and excess mucus caused by allergies can restrict airflow through the Eustachian tube to the middle ear.

How long can Eustachian tube dysfunction last?

It depends on the exact cause. Usually, it only lasts a few weeks at most, but chronic ETD resulting from allergies can last several months at a time.

How effective is Eustachian tube balloon dilation?

Studies and clinical trials show very favorable rates of success for balloon dilation. It is a highly effective treatment.

How long does it take Eustachian tube dilation to work?

The procedure itself only takes a few minutes, and the results are instant. That said, you may experience some pain and soreness for a day or two. Also, avoid strenuous activity and popping your ears for at least a week.

What happens if Eustachian tube dysfunction is left untreated?

Chronic ETD may lead to dizziness, upper respiratory tract infections, and (rarely) loss of hearing if it’s left untreated long enough.

Is Eustachian Tube Balloon Dilation Right for You?

Eustachian tube balloon dilation is quick, safe, and effective, but the only way to be sure whether it’s right for you is to talk to an ENT specialist like Dr. Kayem. If you’re living in LA, Mammoth Lakes, or Las Vegas, contact LA Sinus and Snoring to learn more. Dr. Kayem can help you with a wide variety of sinus conditions, including Eustachian tube dysfunction.