Eustachian Tube Dysfunction

Eustachian tubes are small tubes that connect between your middle ears and the upper throat. Their main purpose is for equalizing ear pressure and draining fluid from the middle ear, the area of the ear behind the eardrum. When you chew, swallow, or yawn these eustachian tubes are usually closed to prevent eustachian tube dysfunction (ETD). If it fails to close normally the tube may become plugged or infected over time for a variety of reasons. Blocked eustachian tubes can cause hearing difficulties, a feeling of pain and fullness in the ears.

ETD is a relatively common condition. Depending on the cause, it may resolve on its own through simple at-home treatment measures to surgical procedures. Severe or recurring cases may require a visit to the doctor.


Symptoms of ETD may include pain but are not limited to:

  • fullness in the ears
  • “plugged” feeling in your ears
  • hearing changes
  • tinnitus or the persistent ringing in the ear
  • clicking or popping sounds
  • ticklish feeling in the ears

The symptoms’ duration depends on the primary cause. For example, temporary altitude changes may resolve once you return to the altitude you’re body is used to. These are minor symptoms but more server illnesses and other causes of ETD will result in longer-lasting symptoms.


Allergies and illnesses like the common cold are the most widespread reasons for ETD. Your eustachian tubes may become inflamed or clogged with mucus if it’s suffering from ETD. People with sinus infections are expected to develop blocked eustachian tubes faster. ETD covers a vast range of indicators and potential causes different from person to person. Seasonal allergies and illnesses that create inflammation in the area, such as the flu or cold, also contribute to ETD.

Sinus infections can also trigger ETD, a sinus infection that forces the eustachian tubes to become inflamed or filled with mucus. Simple changes in altitude or air pressure can trigger ETD. Even driving up a mountain or sitting in a plane can cause ETD, and even just riding the elevator in a tall building may trigger some people to develop unpleasant symptoms.

Altitude changes can also cause ear problems. You may experience the effects of altitude change from:

  • hiking
  • traveling through mountains
  • flying on a plane
  • riding an elevator

But keep in mind that more severe infections can cause ETD as well.

Risk Factors

Anyone can experience ETD at some point in their lives but some people are more prone to this condition.
Obesity can increase your risk because fatty deposits may collect around the eustachian tubes and begin obstruction. Smoking can damage protective hairs in the middle ear, called cilia, and not properly remove the build-up of mucus. People with frequent allergies experience more mucus and congestion which leads to increased risk.

In general, children are more prone to ETD. This is because their eustachian tubes are significantly smaller, which increases mucus and germs build-up in the area. Their more reckless behavior also makes them have more frequent colds and are more prone to infections because their immune systems haven’t matured yet.

Dr. Kanwar Kelley is located at Orinda California and if you are suffering from Eustachian Tube Dysfunction, don’t hesitate to make an appointment (925) 254-6710. He is an experienced physician in many illnesses who can guide your health in the right direction.

Skip to content