Eustachian Tube Dysfunction & Balloon Eustachian Tuboplasty
The Eustachian tube is normally closed and connects the ear space behind the ear drum with the back of the nose. It is part of a highly effective mechanism to ensure that the ear drum is held in the correct position for sound to travel through the ear. When the air pressure changes (such as going up a mountain or under the sea) our Eustachian tubes let air in or out of the middle ear behind the ear drum. By establishing equal pressure either side of the ear drum, this ensures that sound can travel optimally through the ear. When we do not equalise and the ear drum is too tight, it does not vibrate at its best and this gives reduced hearing or a sensation of deafness.
Eustachian tube dysfunction occurs when the tube does not function normally and can sometimes cause an abnormal and often unpleasant sensation within the ears. When our ears ‘pop’ or equalise pressure, most people do not notice when this happens. Eustachian tube dysfunction can cause someone to be aware of this normal process.
Occasionally either the tube does not equalise well or the action of equalising becomes unpleasant. If the tube does not equalise there are some simple tests that can be performed to establish whether this is the case. There are often clear causes as to why someone has developed an incorrectly functioning Eustachian tube such as an ear infection or enlarged adenoids. Sometimes there is too much tissue around the opening to the Eustachian tube (‘patulous Eustachian tube’). This will be established in the clinic. If the tube is functioning normally but the sensation is unpleasant then the cause of this is more difficult to establish.
Balloon Eustachian Tuboplasty
This is a relatively new therapy that involves placing a balloon in the Eustachian tube via the nose. The balloon is inflated for 2 minutes to stretch the tube open to improve its function. This can be performed under a local anaesthetic or more commonly whilst a patient is asleep during a general anaesthetic. Many patients report an improvement in their symptoms. The risks of the procedure are minimal and any discomfort is rare. The procedure can be repeated if necessary. More information here.