• Eustachian tubes are small tubes that run between your middle ears and upper throat.
• Blocked eustachian tubes can cause pain, hearing difficulties, and a feeling of fullness in the ears.
• One possible treatment for eustachian tube dysfunction is balloon dilation.
"Eustachian tube dysfunction is what happens when the tube that connects the back of the throat to the middle ear space doesn't work properly," Trimble said. "So if patients who have significant sinus issues get sick, upper respiratory infections can adversely affect the way the eustachian tube functions, and that's often why people may get fluid in their middle ear space or they may get an ear infection. The interesting thing about ear problems is that most of those things that people complain about -- from stuffiness to decreased hearing because of an ear infection -- can be improved by improving sinus health."
Trimble described a patient who benefited from balloon dilation.
"I recently treated a friend of mine who has a long history of sinus problems, as well as ear issues," Trimble said. "During a sinus procedure, we dilated his eustachian tube to try to improve its function over time. That can also be very helpful as well."
Healthline describes eustachian tubes as small tubes that run between your middle ears and your upper throat. They work to equalize ear pressure and drain fluid from the middle ear, which is the part of the ear behind the eardrum. These tubes tend to be closed, except when you chew, swallow, or yawn, and their small size means that they can become clogged for multiple reasons.
Sinus infections can cause blockages in your eustachian tubes, which may lead to pain and temporary hearing loss that feels similar to being underwater or wearing earplugs.
This phenomenon is called eustachian tube dysfunction (ETD), and it is fairly common. Depending on its cause, ETD can be resolved either on its own or through simple at-home treatments such as chewing gum, yawning, or using a saline nasal spray. However, severe and/or recurring cases should be addressed by a medical professional.
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, one potential ETD treatment is balloon dilation, which is relatively new and minimally invasive. A study involving 126 children who were given the procedure to treat ETD found that symptoms improved in 80% of patients, and no complications were reported.
If you're interested in learning more about the symptoms of sinusitis or ETD, take this Sinus Self-Assessment Quiz.