Eustachian Tube Dysfunction (ETD) affects millions of people worldwide and whilst not life threatening, it can cause immense discomfort, pain and associated life changing outcomes. The Eustachian tubes are small 1.5″ tubes connecting the middle ear to the back of the throat and provides the only escape for fluid (mucus) generated inside the ear. It also allows the air pressure to balance on each side of the ear drum which maintains correct levels and tone of what we hear. When working correctly these tubes open when we swallow or yawn and allow fluid to escape. When they are dysfunctioning, fluid will build up and fill the middle ear causing deafness, pressure, pain and tinnitus.
The reasons for the dysfunction can be many including a virus, infection inflammation or some other physical cause e.g. an obstruction of some kind. Symptoms can last for days, weeks and months. In most cases it will clear on its own accord, but in some cases interventions will be considered by ENT specialists such as sucking the fluid out through the ear drum or the fitting on a grommet to allow air to pass through. Self help measures in the short term can help and below is a guide to some of the actions that can help based upon my own experience.
Get those tubes open again. You need to open your Eustachian tubes as often as you can to get air into the middle ear cavity and also allow excess mucus to find it’s way out. When you achieve this you will hear and feel them pop or crack (this is good!) You can do this by swallowing hard or falsely yawning, pushing your jaw forward hard. Use the ‘Valsalva movement’, which is done by pinching your nose and blowing quite hard with your mouth closed, filling your cheeks until both tubes pop open. It can take a while, but keep going. Hold them open for a few seconds, release and then swallow. Do this 4 or 5 times a day at least.
Anti-inflammatories. I believe that these drugs can help. A common cause of the ET not working is inflammation in or around the ET’s and by reducing this you can help things to get back to normal. It’s worth a try, but keep going as it can take days to take effect.
Chew gum. Do this as much as you can and preferably use a menthol gum. The chewing action will help the tubes to open naturally and the menthol will assist as well.
Use steam and lots of it. Using steam will help to free up mucus and open the tubes up. Do this as often as you can. If you have access to a steam room, then use this and sit in there for an hour. Using Olbas oil with a steamer is very good. A facial sauna machine is a good substitute as this will keep the steam hot for longer than a normal fill inhaler. Whilst breathing in, open the ET’s by yawning. Using a bowl with a towel over your head is OK as well.
Heat pad. Use a hot water bottle wrapped in a thin towel and hold it tight against your ear as hot as you can stand it. The heat will radiate through to the middle ear and will help to free up that stubborn mucus.
Nasal sprays. These can be useful to start to free up the sinuses and ET’s
Sleep upright. Don’t lay flat because the fluid will shift into places that will not help. Prop yourself as high as you can, which will naturally allow the fluid to drain. The problem ear should be upper most.
Use a distraction to relieve the tinnitus. If you need to spend the night sat in front of the TV to drop off to sleep then do whatever it takes. Relaxing music through headphones can work, as can ‘white noise’ which can cancel out the ringing or loud hissing sounds often suffered with this. You can download these files or purchase them. Experiment with various tones as some will work and others will not. Try this site http://www.simplynoise.com/.
Avoid alcohol and caffeine. These are stimulants and will enhance any tinnitus that you have. The temptation may be to lose yourself with drink. This will not be productive. Now is a good time to try herbal and green teas. Drink other hot fluids such as diluted fruit juices with honey which can act as natuaral decongestants and help with keeping your body hydrated.
Decongestants – you decide? The jury is out on these. Some advice will say use them. My doctor said treatments such as Sudafed are a complete waste of time to deal with this. Yes they may dry up mucus but don’t forget that we actually want this stuff to clear by running out, not drying to hard deposits in the ear. This can cause the ear to produce yet more mucus to shift the dried up deposits in what is referred to as a ‘rebound affect’. I did use them initially, however I will not the next time if this comes back as I am convinced that prolonged use of these did me more harm than good.
Nasal irrigation – Many will suggest this as being helpful. The Neti pot is the most popular. I used the SinusRinse system by Neilmed which is easier than a Netipot and did seem to help. I would say for a small outlay it is worth a try, particularly if your sinuses are blocked as well.
Look after yourself. Eat well and ensure you are getting what you need to stay strong. High dose vitamin C is viewed by many as good to help battle this. Dairy food is thought by many to be one of the biggest causes of excess mucus. No evidence exists to say that it is, but for me avoiding this when your body is trying to shift it is probably a sensible sacrifice to make. Certain food groups are thought to be inflammatory which may be triggering this problem. Look at these foods and restrict inflammatory foods. Fresh garlic, ginger and fresh pineapple are excellent natural decongestants. Gentle exercise may help, particularly in the fresh air, but avoid strenuous aerobic activity as again this creates more of the stuff you are trying to shift. Keep well hydrated by drinking you daily consumption.
Devices may help. There are a number of devices available aimed at relieving this problem. The Earpopper may help if you are unable to open your tubes up yourself. Earpopper The Eardoc produces high level vibrations through the ear which is claimed will open up the tubes and allow the fluid to drain. Eardoc Any other device which can produce vibrations to the ear may help to get things moving.
Homeopathy. There are some natural medicines available that may help. Just search ‘Ear Problem Homeopathic’ to see what is recommended. Kali Bich is thought to be particularly effective at helping with ear, nose and throat disorders. Echinacea is worth considering also.
Think positive. It is very easy at 3am with no sleep and an ear that feels like it’s going to explode, to feel that the world is ending and that you will be cursed with this forever. You must keep positive and believe that will go. It will. Virtually all cases of this will clear up, unless you have a rare complication which will not allow this. If you have this for a prolonged period, you must pester your doctor and demand to see a specialist. This is because he/she is the only person to see if there is an underlying cause which needs other measures. Medical interventions are limited to solve this and the exact causes of this illness are still unknown. As a last resort grommet’s can be installed in the ear drum, but for many reasons this should be carefully considered. My ETD’ problem comes and goes. I have 3-4 days of discomfort and little sleep, then it gradually clears and I enjoy near normality for a week or more, before if comes back again. Others have only a few days of suffering, while some have a much longer period of problems. Don’t expect any treatment to instantly sort the problem. It wont. Mine takes around 24 hours to come on and 2-3 days to gradually go. It’s a slow process. Good luck.