Eustachian tube patency describes a condition in which the eustachian tube is continually open. The eustachian tube is a structure in the ear that runs from behind the eardrum to the back part of the nasal cavity.
Normally, the eustachian tube is closed at the back of the nasal cavity. It can open during swallowing or yawning to equal the air pressure on either side of the eardrum. In eustachian tube patency, the canal is constantly open. As a result, there is more risk that an infection will spread into the middle ear space.
A common complaint is the sensation of ear plugging or fullness that improves with "popping" the ear. It is also difficult to control the volume of speech. Some people complain that their speech has an echo quality as if they are speaking through a barrel. Symptoms are often worse later in the day than in the morning. This is because the mucous membranes in the nose and sinuses swell when people lie down, causing partial closure of the ear canal.
In most cases, the cause of eustachian tube patency is unclear. It can be seen in a person who has lost an excessive amount of weight. One theory is that the loss of fat tissue around the canal allows it to be constantly open. Other possible causes are radiation therapy and Down syndrome.
Because there is no clear cause, there is no known way to prevent this.
During the physical examination, the healthcare professional will see the eardrum move in and out with breathing. Sometimes the professional will perform a tympanogram, which is a procedure used to measure the pressure behind the eardrum indirectly.
There is an increased risk of chronic infections of the middle ear, known as chronic otitis media, in a person with eustachian tube patency.
There is no risk to others, as the condition is not contagious.
While there is no adequate treatment for this condition, some people respond to nasal steroid sprays. Insertion of an ear tube in the eardrum is helpful for some individuals. In severe cases, injection of Teflon under the lining of the tube may close it. In extreme cases, the eustachian tube can be plugged surgically.
Nasal steroid sprays can reduce mucous membrane thickness, worsening the problem. An ear tube can cause infection if soapy or contaminated water enters through its opening. When the tube falls out, some people are left with a hole in the eardrum.
After surgery to close the eustachian tube, a person may development a chronic infection of the middle ear, known as chronic otitis media, or mastoiditis, an infection of the bone behind the ear.
Symptoms usually resolve with successful treatment.
Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare professional.