The auditory tube (Eustachian tube) is a small-size tube that travels from the middle ear up to the rear of the throat. The auditory tube has various essential functions such as opening and closing as a response to changes in ambient air pressure to equalize pressure in the middle ear. It can even close as response to loud noises in an attempt to protect the delicate ear structures as well as clearing up mucous from the middle ear by draining into the rear of the throat.
The auditory tube among children runs in a more horizontal angle than adults. This is why children are prone to conditions caused by auditory tube dysfunction. Under normal conditions, the auditory tube is closed but opens up periodically specifically when swallowing, sneezing or yawning. This is why the individual needs to swallow in order to “pop” the ears while driving up a steep mountain or taking off in an airplane. When swallowing, the auditory tube opens up and equalizes the pressure in the middle ear.
Close look on auditory tube dysfunction
It is important to note that auditory tube dysfunction occurs once the auditory tube does not function normally. The following conditions are likely to occur once the auditory tube fails to equalize the air pressure inside the middle ear space.
- Ear pain
- Ruptured eardrum
- Ear barotrauma
Other conditions that can develop when the auditory tube is unable to properly clear mucous from the middle ear include the following:
- Middle ear infections (otitis media)
- Fluid in the ears
- Middle ear atelectasis
Causes of auditory tube dysfunction
Various conditions can disrupt with the normal functioning of the auditory tube. When it comes to chronic auditory tube insufficiency, several factors are involved. The following can cause the auditory tube to fail with one or several of its functions.
- Auditory tube is unusually small in diameter
- Auditory tube is obstructed by swollen tissue
- Tumors or growths that clog the auditory tube and prevent drainage
- Nasal congestion due to allergies or common cold
- Abrupt changes in the ambient air pressure
What are the signs and symptoms?
- Ear pain
- Hearing loss
- Ears are clogged or there is a need to “pop”
- Developmental delays in children but this is rare
Treatment of auditory tube dysfunction
The treatment for auditory tube dysfunction is chosen based on individual circumstances as well as the root cause of the issue. When it comes to fluid in the ear, many individuals can clear the fluid on their own after a period of time. In case fluid is still present after 3-6 months and accompanied by undesirable symptoms, the doctor might treat the condition using surgical placement of ventilate tubes.
If there are enlarged tissues such as adenoids, turbinates, nasal polyps or abnormal sinus growth, they can block the auditory tubes and prevent drainage. These are often removed using endoscopic sinus surgery.