Eustachian Tube Problems (Ear Tube Problems)

  • Medical Author:
    John Mersch, MD, FAAP

    Dr. Mersch received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California, San Diego, and prior to entering the University Of Southern California School Of Medicine, was a graduate student (attaining PhD candidate status) in Experimental Pathology at USC. He attended internship and residency at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: David Perlstein, MD, MBA, FAAP
    David Perlstein, MD, MBA, FAAP

    David Perlstein, MD, MBA, FAAP

    Dr. Perlstein received his Medical Degree from the University of Cincinnati and then completed his internship and residency in pediatrics at The New York Hospital, Cornell medical Center in New York City. After serving an additional year as Chief Pediatric Resident, he worked as a private practitioner and then was appointed Director of Ambulatory Pediatrics at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx.

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What can cause Eustachian tube blockage?

The Eustachian tube can be blocked, or obstructed, for a variety of reasons.:

  • The most common cause is a "cold" (upper respiratory infection).
  • Sinus infections and allergies may also cause swelling of the tissue lining the Eustachian tube. Simply put, a stuffy nose leads to stuffy ears.
  • Children are particularly prone to Eustachian tube blockage because their tubes are narrower in diameter, more horizontal in orientation, and closer at the nasal opening of the Eustachian tube to the adenoid.
  • Adenoid tissue in the back of the nose near the Eustachian tube can act as a reservoir for bacteria, contributing to recurrent ear infections. Enlarged adenoids obstructing the opening of the Eustachian tube may also be present. Adenoid removal (adenoidectomy) is frequently recommended in children with chronic ear infections (chronic otitis media).
  • Rarely, masses or tumors in the skull base or nasopharynx can lead to Eustachian tube obstruction.

Eustachian tube problems and the associated ear infections are among the most common problems seen by doctors. Many people have chronic problems regulating middle ear pressure. Causes range from allergies to excessively small Eustachian tubes (as may afflict children with Down Syndrome). These patients often notice intermittent ear fullness, ear popping or cracking, mild hearing loss (an attenuation of sound), ringing in the ears (tinnitus), and/or occasional poor balance. Smoking is associated with damage to the cilia that sweep along mucus and debris from the middle ear space to the back of the nose where it may be expelled.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/2/2015

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