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Blocked ear and middle ear pressure change pain

Jeanette BURKSCHAT, Section Chief of ENT Clinic, ENT Specialist

Flying can be a painful experience for some people. Pressure during take off and landing can be very unpleasant but normally disappears quickly after swallowing or yawning. Some adult patients experience permanent pressure or muffled hearing. Similar symptoms might occur when traveling through a tunnel or driving a car in the mountains. If the symptoms don’t disappear after swallowing, yawning, or if you feel persistent pressure or muffled hearing it is best to see an ENT specialist for examination.

These symptoms are mostly caused by dysfunction of the Eustachian Tube.

The Eustachian Tube is a small channel which connects the middle ear with the nasopharynx.

Through this tube the pressure in the middle ear can be changed. While swallowing or yawning the tube opens briefly and air can enter the middle ear. Sometimes a clicking sound can be heard.

A blockage of the Eustachian Tube can be related to swollen tissue due to a cold, allergy or a sinus infection in the nose and nasopharynx.

Symptoms include:

  • Blocked ear
  • Hearing problems
  • Ringing or popping noises in the ears
  • Slightly dizzy feeling

Sometimes small exercises can help. Pinch your nose, keeping it shut for a while, while inhaling through your mouth. Try to exhale through your ears or try to blow your nose while pinching it closed. This should help to open it.

In case of an allergy, antihistamine and steroid nasal spray can ease the symptoms.

In some cases these exercises don’t help. In this case please see your ENT doctor. During the examination your ENT will examine your ears with a microscope, the nose and the nasaopharynx if necessary with a small endoscope. Also a hearing test or allergy test can be necessary.

Medical treatment of medical conditions such as  allergies or sinusitis can also help.

If your symptoms remain, your doctor can perform a minimally-invasive surgical procedure by placing a small tube in your ear drum. This can help to open the Eustachian tube again. To open the Eustachian tube, your ENT specialist inserts a small balloon catheter into the Eustachian tube through the nose or mouth under a short general anesthetic. The tube is placed in the cartilage area of the Eustachian tube. After inflating the balloon the catheter will be removed and in most cases this procedure restores proper function of the Eustachian tube.

Following dilation it is recommended to train the ventilation of the Eustachian tube on a regular basis.