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Blocked ears (Eustachian tube dysfunction)

Taringa kua aukati

Illustration showing the eustachian tube going between the ear and the back of the noseThe eustachian (yoo-stay-shun) tube is a tube that runs from your ear to the back of your nose. It is normally closed but opens when you swallow or yawn. This lets air into your middle ear.

If your eustachian tube is not working properly, this causes reduced air pressure in your middle ear, which pulls your eardrum inwards. This can make your ear feel blocked and may cause ear pain. You may also notice you cannot hear properly.

Causes of eustachian tube dysfunction

The commonest cause is a blocked nose, because swelling closes the entrance to the eustachian tube. A cold is the usual reason for this but it can also happen with allergies.

Glue ear and large adenoids (tissue where the back of your nose meets your throat) can also be a cause, especially in tamariki (children).

Smoking can affect the way your eustachian tube works.

Air travel and scuba diving when you have a cold can make eustachian tube dysfunction worse.

Treating eustachian tube dysfunction

If you have symptoms of eustachian tube dysfunction, try closing your mouth, holding your nose closed and blowing into your nose. This is called the Valsalva manoeuvre. You may hear a clicking sound in your ears.

A nasal decongestant spray used for five to seven days may help if you have a blocked nose.

A steroid nasal spray can be used for longer and may help, especially if the problem is caused by an allergy.

If your symptoms do not get better, see your general practice team to check for other ear problems. There may be another cause of your pain, such as waxy ears or a middle ear or outer ear infection.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed October 2023.


See also:

Middle ear infections

Outer ear infection

Waxy ears

Page reference: 137997

Review key: HIEIG-48027