- By: John Stenberg
- Date: May 24, 2018
What is Eustachian Tube Dysfunction?
Eustachian Tube Dysfunction is a common problem affecting the structures of the inner ear (Eustachian tubes) of both children and adults. Common secondary conditions (a.k.a. symptoms) of Eustachian Tube Dysfunction include earaches, dizziness, fullness in the ear, tinnitus (ringing in the ear), and more. Conditions such as vertigo, Meniere’s, and endolymphatic hydrops include signs and symptoms of ETD.
There are various causes of Eustachian Tube Dysfunction, some commonly understood and others less so. Understanding the cause of Eustachian Tube Dysfunction helps to shed light on proper treatments and potential triggers. The causes can be due to inflammation in the tissues surrounding the inner ear, pressure changes (such as flying, high altitude hiking, riding in an elevator), or from structural obstructions to the structures of the inner ear.
Inflammation of the Eustachian Tubes is commonly referred to as an “ear infection” and is unfortunately common (but not normal) among newborns and infants. In adulthood, the Eustachian Tubes are angulated downward to drain into the back of the nose and throat. In infancy and childhood, the tubes are angulated horizontally and may not drain properly if tissue inflammation or obstruction is present. This can lead to pain, pressure, discharge, or chronic ear infections in pediatric patients. For Eustachian Tube Dysfunction related to bacterial sinus infections, antibiotics are often needed to fully resolve the condition.
Causes: Structural Nerve Irritation
In the absence of a sinus infection, Eustachian Tube inflammation can be caused by several other factors. One of the most commonly overlooked causes of Eustachian Tube Dysfunction lies in the neurological supply to the muscles that constrict and surround the Eustachian Tubes. The nervous system acts as the electrical communication system of the body. A network of nerve fibers connects the brain to various structures in the body so that the body can adapt to changes in its environment (both internal and external). These individual “circuits” are subject to being overloaded or obstructed in the same way that circuits within your home can become overloaded. When this occurs the end organ (tissue or structure at the end of the circuit) is compromised in its function.
The nerve supply to the Eustachian Tubes is provided by a branch of the Vagus nerve. This nerve starts in the lower part of the brain (called the brainstem or medulla oblongata) and travels through the base of the skull and upper neck giving off branches to various structures including the Eustachian Tubes.
Mechanical Irritation of this nerve circuit has been documented in cases of Atlas Displacement Complex, also known as Upper Cervical Subluxation. An abnormal structural position of the head and neck produces biomechanical dysfunction and local irritation in the area of the brainstem and upper spinal cord. If the “circuit” supply the Eustachian Tube or its supporting musculature is affected, Eustachian Tube Dysfunction is a common side effect.
How To Tell If The Cause Is Inflammatory OR Structural In Nature:
There are a number of ways to distinguish between a bacterial cause or a structural cause of Eustachian Tube Dysfunction which helps to guide appropriate treatment.
If you can answer yes to one or more of the following questions, consider a bacterial cause of Eustachian Tube Dysfunction:
- Do you have a history of chronic sinus infections?
- Are you experiencing pain/tenderness around the cheekbones or behind the eyes?
- Are you experiencing nasal discharge or post-nasal drip?
If you can answer yes to one or more of the following questions, consider a structural cause of Eustachian Tube Dysfunction:
- Do you have a history of head/neck trauma including whiplash, sports injuries, concussion, motor vehicle accident?
- Do you experience neck pain, neck stiffness, or headaches (tension or migraine)?
- Is your condition aggravated by movements of the head and neck?
Colorado Springs Chiropractor Dr. John Stenberg focuses in an area of chiropractic care called NeuroStructural Correction. This unique approach uses state of the art technology and technique to detect and correct Atlas Displacement Complex, a structural condition which can affect the nerve supply to the structures of the head and neck. If you answered “yes” to one or more of the questions above regarding a structural cause to your condition, consider consulting with downtown Colorado Springs Chiropractor Dr. John Stenberg to determine if NeuroStructural Correction can help resolve your condition.