The Eustachian tube is a canal which connects the middle ear to the nasopharynx, which consists of the upper throat and the back of the nasal cavity. It regulates the pressure within the middle ear, equalizing it with the air pressure outside the body. Most of the time the Eustachian tube is closed, opening only during activities such as yawning, swallowing, and chewing, to allow air through the passage between the middle ear and nasopharynx. When atmospheric pressure changes rapidly, causing a sudden feeling of blockage in the ear, these activities can be done deliberately to open the tube and equalize the pressure within the middle ear. When the Eustachian tube will not open enough to equalize pressure, symptoms such as discomfort, dizziness, or ringing in the ear may result. Visual examination of the eardrum with a lighted scope helps to determine if the cause is inflammation, swelling or fluid in the ear. Conditions such as nasal congestion, infection of the ear or sinus, or allergies may cause these symptoms and lead to Eustachian tube dysfunction. These causes can often be treated with decongestant medication or antibiotics, but in severe cases surgery may be necessary.
Written and medically reviewed by the Healthline Editorial Team
In Depth: Pharyngotympanic tube