Eustachian tube dysfunction happens when the tube between the middle ear and the back of the nose (the Eustachian tube) doesn't work properly. This means that the pressure in your ear can't go back to normal. The result is muffled hearing and a popping or crackling noise in one or both ears.
What is the Eustachian tube and what does it do?
The Eustachian tube is a narrow tube that we all have. It connects the space behind the eardrum (the middle ear) with the back of the nose. You can't feel it or see it. Don't try to stick your finger up your nose to feel it! Only a specialist ear doctor using a long flexible camera can see the opening of the Eustachian tube deep inside your nose.
The Eustachian tube helps the pressure in your middle ear to stay normal. That way, your hearing stays nice and clear. If the Eustachian tube doesn't work properly, you can get problems with your hearing, or a strange crackly or popping sound in your ears.
Read about the symptoms of Eustachian tube dysfunction.
Why is it called 'Eustachian'?
It's named after the Italian doctor who discovered it, way back in the 1500s. His name was Bartolomeo Eustachio.
What is Eustachian tube dysfunction?
Usually the Eustachian tube helps the pressure in your middle ear to 'equalise' or go back to normal. But if something blocks the tube then air can't go up and down it and you get problems.
This causes muffled hearing in the affected ear, together with a feeling of fullness or pressure in that ear. When swallowing or yawning, a 'popping' sensation is often felt.
Can I go in an aeroplane?
Often people get slightly sore ears when the plane takes off or lands. This is from pressure changes around your eardrum. If you have Eustachian tube dysfunction at the time of flying, you might find that your ears get more sore than usual during take-off and landing.
Further reading and references
Norman G, Llewellyn A, Harden M, et al; Systematic review of the limited evidence base for treatments of Eustachian tube dysfunction: a health technology assessment. Clin Otolaryngol. 2014 Feb39(1):6-21. doi: 10.1111/coa.12220.
Balloon dilatation of the Eustachian tube; NICE Interventional Procedure Guideline, November 2011
McDonald MH, Hoffman MR, Gentry LR, et al; New insights into mechanism of Eustachian tube ventilation based on cine computed tomography images. Eur Arch Otorhinolaryngol. 2011 Nov 27.
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