Eustachian Tube Dysfunction

Eustachian Tube Dysfunction (ETD) occurs when the Eustachian tube, a narrow passageway connecting the middle ear with the nose, is blocked or malfunctions and fails to allow pressure to equalize on both sides of the ear drum.  Everyone has experienced ETD before when they have had a cold, allergies or gone up a mountain. It is that “plugged up” feeling that is occasionally accompanied by “popping” or “crackling” noises when you yawn.

The middle ear is a air-filled space, which, under normal circumstances, has the same pressure as the environmental (outside) air pressure. When the environmental air pressure changes quickly, a normally functioning Eustachian tube will “pop” and the pressure both inside and outside the middle ear becomes equal. If the Eustachian tube does not “pop” but instead remains closed the result is pain and fullness within the inner ear, this condition is called Eustachian tube dysfunction.

The causes of Eustachian tube dysfunction are variable but some of the root causes are:

  • Allergies
  • Chronic otitis media (ear infection)
  • Malformation of the Eustachian tube, occasionally present in conjunction with other outer and middle ear disorders
  • Cleft Palate (complete or partial known as “sub-mucosal cleft”
  • Tumors
  • Barotrauma


Treatment for ETD must begin with a comprehensive medical examination by an otologist and an audiologist in order to pinpoint the root issue for the ETD. After examination, the otologist may prescribe oral or topical medications, or recommend a minor surgical procedure known as a myringotomy, either with or without placement of Pressure Equalization tubes (PE tubes).  Allergy testing and therapy may also be helpful.