AssessmentsEustachian tube dysfunction
Eustachian tube dysfunction
Content Reviewers:Rishi Desai, MD, MPH
The ear can be broken into three sections.
And finally there’s the inner ear, which contains very special tissue structures called the cochlea which converts sound waves into electrical impulses for the brain and the semicircular canals which help with balance.
This tube has three main functions—equalizing pressure across the tympanic membrane, protecting the middle ear from reflux of fluids going up from the nasopharynx, and clearing out middle ear secretions.
Eustachian tube dysfunction describes situations when one or all of these functions aren’t happening normally.
In an adult, the eustachian tube is a roughly 4 centimeter long part-bone, part-cartilage canal that’s surrounded by four key muscles: the tensor veli palatini, the levator veli palatini, the salpingopharyngeus, and the tensor tympani, and it’s those first two that help a lot with opening up the tube.
As the plane rises, the air pressure decreases.
This is sort of like what happens with a burp, where a bubble of air slips through the esophagus to relieve pressure, in fact, sometimes there’s a popping sound that can be heard, like an ear burp.
The reverse process happens when a plane lands, since the air pressure on the ground is relatively high and the middle ear pressure is relatively low because a tiny bit of air was “burped” out.