Do you suffer from allergies? You’ll know the debilitating symptoms they can produce. These can include a blocked nose, headaches, watery eyes, drowsiness, and breathing difficulties. Allergies can affect the ears, and lead to a condition called “Eustachian tube dysfunction” (ETD). In this case you will want to consider evaluation by an otolaryngologist. Let’s take a look what the Eustachian tube, how it can be affected by allergies, and possible treatments.
What Is the Eustachian Tube?
The Eustachian tube is commonly known as the ear tube or the auditory tube. It’s a thin tube that links the space behind the eardrum with the nasopharynx, an area that contains the adenoids and extends from the bottom of the skull to the top of the soft palate. The tube is approximately one and a half inches long in adults, and a portion of the tube is made up of bone. The Eustachian tube equalizes pressure between the middle ear space and the atmosphere. When the tube does not work well (“dysfunction”) a negative pressure is created and symptoms of fullness, ear popping, and temporary hearing loss and imbalance can ensue.
How Allergies Can Affect the Eustachian Tube
Allergic reactions typically involve swelling of tissues. When the tissues of and around the Eustachian tube swell, the function is impaired. When the Eustachian tube function is impaired, a negative pressure may ensue which will suction in the eardrum like a vacuum leading to the classic symptoms of Eustachian tube dysfunction.
Sinusitis And Eustachian Tube Dysfunction
Like allergies, sinusitis may lead to swelling of the nose and sinuses. There is often an associated post-nasal drainage of thick mucous with sinusitis. In affected patients, the thick mucous drains down the back of the nose, into the nasopharynx, adjacent to the Eustachian tube openings. Swelling secondary to sinus-related post-nasal drainage may also lead to Eustachian tube dysfunction.
The Effects of Eustachian Tube Dysfunction
Ear pain, discomfort, and fullness are common symptoms of Eustachian tube dysfunction. Patients may also experience difficulty in hearing clearly. Sounds may be muffled. Sufferers of ETD may also hear a ringing or buzzing sound in their ears, and sometimes may experience dizziness or even feelings of nausea, or loss of balance. If ETD persists, it may lead to an accumulation of fluid in the middle ear space and consequent ear infections.
How Eustachian Tube Dysfunction Is Treated
The goal in treating Eustachian Tube dysfunction is to identify and minimize the source of swelling which is impacting the Eustachian tube area. If the source of the allergy or swelling is removed then the condition may clear up itself within a short time period, but it could return at a later date. Steroidal or antihistamine sprays or antihistamine tablets are commonly used to help to control and reduce the swelling. Other methods, such as office-based Eustachian Tube insufflations are available as an alternative to medical treatments. On occasion, surgery may be indicated if the ETD is sufficient to lead to recurrent or persistent ear infections. In any case, it is best to treat ETD under the care of a trained health care provider so that the full-range of short and long-term therapeutic options may be reviewed and presented.
Dr. Naomi Gregory is a highly trained, board certified otolaryngologist who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases of the ear, nose, and throat. Seek her expertise at the Becker ENT Center if you are looking for an ear infection specialist in Pennsylvania.