What are the Different Types of Eustachian Tube Dysfunction?

Laura M. Sands

Eustachian tube problems can include tubes that are too narrow, that become blocked, and that collapse or do not properly open and close as needed. A tube that does not close is known as a Patulous Eustachian tube, or PET. Eustachian tube dysfunction can also be caused by ear injury or a congenital defect.

A sore throat can cause ear barotraumas.
A sore throat can cause ear barotraumas.

Problems with the Eustachian tubes are commonly due to an underlying cause, such as a cold, allergies, or a sinus infection. Depending on the problem, medical professionals may treat this condition with antibiotics or nasal decongestants while prescribing pain medications to soothe aching and discomfort. In many cases, however, Eustachian tube dysfunction heals naturally as the underlying cause of it, such as a common cold, diminishes.

Allergies may be the cause of problems with the eustachian tube.
Allergies may be the cause of problems with the eustachian tube.

Chronic dysfunction does not subside with medical treatment, nor does it naturally resolve itself as underlying symptoms subside. Instead, this type of Eustachian tube dysfunction often requires surgery to correct. Until this is done, the symptoms associated with this problem may periodically appear to decrease, but will continue to recur.

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Women are more likely to experience a Patulous Eustachian tube due to the use of birth control pills.
Women are more likely to experience a Patulous Eustachian tube due to the use of birth control pills.

Anyone can be affected by Eustachian tube problems at any age, but women are more likely to experience PET than are men. It is believed that this problem may be more common in women due to the use of birth control pills, frequent dieting and weight changes, including weight gain due to pregnancy. In this type of dysfunction, the Eustachian tubes do not close and cause the individual to experience a constant feeling of fullness in the ears, as well as to hear echoes and the sound of her own voice.

Some cases of Eustachian tube dysfunction are attributable to a bacterial sinus infection.
Some cases of Eustachian tube dysfunction are attributable to a bacterial sinus infection.

One of the more common types of Eustachian tube dysfunction is a feeling of increased pressure caused by exposure to high altitudes or while engaging in other activities that expose the eardrum to a change in altitude, such as deep sea diving. This causes something known as ear barotrauma to occur, which simply means that an imbalance exists between the air pressure on both sides of the eardrum. Gum chewing, yawning, or swallowing may open the Eustachian tube and bring relief from this type of dysfunction. Some people are born with ear barotraumas, however, while others experience it due to a sore, swollen throat.

Feeling increased pressure due to being at a high altitude is one type of eustachian tube dysfunction.
Feeling increased pressure due to being at a high altitude is one type of eustachian tube dysfunction.
A Eustacian tube that does not close causes a feeling of fullness in the ears.
A Eustacian tube that does not close causes a feeling of fullness in the ears.
The common cold may be the underlying cause of eustachian tube dysfunction.
The common cold may be the underlying cause of eustachian tube dysfunction.
Yawning can open up the Eustachian tube and help relieve pressure in the ear.
Yawning can open up the Eustachian tube and help relieve pressure in the ear.
Those with PET may hear echoes and the sound of their own voice.
Those with PET may hear echoes and the sound of their own voice.

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Discussion Comments

lighth0se33

My ears nearly pop when I go up and down hills, but I did not know that was considered a type of eustachian tube dysfunction. I thought it was normal.

While riding to New York in a car with my husband, we both experienced extreme pressure changes in our ears. With every hill we drove up, we felt the pressure increase until it seemed it could increase no more.

We finally started opening our mouths every time we were about to ascend or descend a hill. This solved the problem.

kylee07drg

I generally forget about the connection between my ears, nose, and throat until I get a sickness that affects them all. I'm sure my eustachian tube is the source of my ear pain when I have a head cold.

I have to blow my nose frequently when I'm sick, and every time that I do, I feel a sharp pain in my ear. Sometimes, I feel like the mucus from my nose has suddenly shot through the tube, diverting toward my ear.

I have to be careful when this starts happening. I begin blowing my nose very gently, because that ear pain is severe and lingers.

Oceana

@shell4life – Probably not, because the eustachian tube blockage is caused by the swelling around it. The water has a hard time moving anywhere.

I had a blockage like this during a cold. I tried using ear drops made for swimmers that is supposed to help water evaporate faster from the ear, but it must have been unable to get all the way around the blockage, because it didn't work.

My ears itched like crazy during this time. I kept sticking cotton swabs down the canal to scratch the area, but it didn't make it stop.

shell4life

I had a blocked eustachian tube while I was suffering from a long sinus infection. The swelling prevented fluid from draining through the tube, and I wound up with fluid trapped in my ear.

The doctor could see the fluid when she examined me. She gave me some antibiotics to help clear things out, and I felt better in a few days.

I hate that feeling of having fluid trapped in my ear. I kept plunging it and trying to pump some of it out by pushing that flap of cartilage that goes over the hole down multiple times in a row, but it did not help. Is there any way to get trapped ear fluid out of there without taking antibiotics?

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