Mar 20, 2019
If you’ve ever been on a flight and felt your ears ‘pop’, you’ll know that swallowing or yawning can help relieve the feeling of pressure in your ears. But why?
It’s all to do with the eustachian tube (also known as the auditory tube) – a tunnel linking your middle ear to the cavity in the back of your nose.
Glue ear symptoms
The eustachian tube is a key part of a condition called ‘glue ear’, also known as otitis media with effusion. Glue ear causes the middle ear to become congealed with a gluey fluid. Symptoms include:
- Ear pain
- Changes to your hearing, or loss of hearing
- Tinnitus (buzzing or ringing sounds)
Glue ear is more common in children, but adults can be affected too.
What causes glue ear?
Most of us know there’s a connection between our ears and our nose and nasal cavity, but few of us know exactly how. That’s the job of the eustachian tube: it helps equalize the pressure inside the middle ear, which is why swallowing can help correct the pressure in ears during a flight.
To understand why glue ear happens, we need to know a little bit about the workings of the ear. The middle ear contains three ‘ossicles’, the bones that detect sound pressure from the ear drum and send it to the cochlea. The cochlea then converts the sound into nerve impulses your brain can understand.
If the eustachian tube becomes blocked or swollen, it creates a vacuum in the middle ear cavity. This draws out fluid from the surrounding tissue, eventually building up and ultimately limiting the movement of the delicate ossicles. The result is ear pain and a potential reduction in hearing sensitivity.
Treating glue ear
In most cases, glue ear will go away naturally over a period of weeks and months. Hearing aids can be used temporarily to combat the loss in hearing sensitivity, while grommets can be installed to drain the fluid and restore airflow.
Grommets are tiny, temporary tubes inserted into the ear drum – it’s a common procedure, and the grommets fall out naturally after 6-12 months.
Alternatively, in rare cases, surgery may be required to remove the adenoid glands at the back of the nose.