The auditory tube or Eustachian tube is a small-sized tube that originates from the middle ear up to the rear part of the throat. It has various essential functions such as opening and closing in response to fluctuations in the ambient air pressure for pressure equalization, closing to protect the ear structures from loud noises and clearing mucous from the middle ear for drainage into the back of the throat.
Among children, the auditory tube has a more horizontal angle than adults. With age, the tube steadily becomes bigger and vertical to allow better drainage. This is the reason why children are susceptible to conditions due to auditory tube dysfunction.
What is auditory tube dysfunction?
This occurs once the auditory tube is unable to properly function which results to various conditions. The following conditions can develop once the auditory tube fails to equalize the air pressure within the middle ear:
- Ruptured ear drum
- Ear pain
- Ear barotrauma
Other conditions that can develop if the auditory tube could not properly clear mucous from the middle ear include fluid in the ear, middle ear infection and middle ear atelectasis.
Various conditions can disrupt with the normal functioning of the auditory tube. When it comes to chronic cases, several factors are usually involved. Take note that the following might trigger the failure of the auditory tube or one of its essential functions:
- Tube is abnormally small in size
- Growths or tumors that clog the auditory tube and prevents proper drainage
- Blockage by a large tissue such as the adenoids
- Abrupt changes in the ambient air pressure which does not provide enough time to equalize the pressure within the middle ear
- Nasal congestion due to infections such as common cold or allergies
What are the indications?
- Ear pain
- Dizziness or balance loss
- Hearing loss
- Sensation of clogged up ears or a need to “pop”
- Children with fluid in the ears can end up with developmental delays in rare cases
Management of auditory tube dysfunction
The treatment for auditory tube dysfunction is based on the case of the individual and the main cause. When it comes to fluid in the ear, many are able to clear the fluid after a given period of time. In case fluid is still present after 3-6 months along with bothersome symptoms or affects the development of a child, the doctor might recommend surgical placement of ventilation tubes. The removal of the adenoids at the same time can be more effective than the placement of the tubes alone.
If there are enlarged tissues such as nasal polyps, adenoids, unusual sinus growths or turbinates including tumors that block the auditory tube and prevents normal drainage, they are often removed with endoscopic sinus surgery.