Eustachian tube problems can include tubes that are too narrow, that become blocked, and that collapse or do not properly open and close as needed. A tube that does not close is known as a Patulous Eustachian tube, or PET. Eustachian tube dysfunction can also be caused by ear injury or a congenital defect.
Problems with the Eustachian tubes are commonly due to an underlying cause, such as a cold, allergies, or a sinus infection. Depending on the problem, medical professionals may treat this condition with antibiotics or nasal decongestants while prescribing pain medications to soothe aching and discomfort. In many cases, however, Eustachian tube dysfunction heals naturally as the underlying cause of it, such as a common cold, diminishes.
Chronic dysfunction does not subside with medical treatment, nor does it naturally resolve itself as underlying symptoms subside. Instead, this type of Eustachian tube dysfunction often requires surgery to correct. Until this is done, the symptoms associated with this problem may periodically appear to decrease, but will continue to recur.
Anyone can be affected by Eustachian tube problems at any age, but women are more likely to experience PET than are men. It is believed that this problem may be more common in women due to the use of birth control pills, frequent dieting and weight changes, including weight gain due to pregnancy. In this type of dysfunction, the Eustachian tubes do not close and cause the individual to experience a constant feeling of fullness in the ears, as well as to hear echoes and the sound of her own voice.
One of the more common types of Eustachian tube dysfunction is a feeling of increased pressure caused by exposure to high altitudes or while engaging in other activities that expose the eardrum to a change in altitude, such as deep sea diving. This causes something known as ear barotrauma to occur, which simply means that an imbalance exists between the air pressure on both sides of the eardrum. Gum chewing, yawning, or swallowing may open the Eustachian tube and bring relief from this type of dysfunction. Some people are born with ear barotraumas, however, while others experience it due to a sore, swollen throat.