Eustachian Tube Balloon Dilation: Everything You Need to Know
For such a small part of the body, the ear has a huge impact on how we feel and how we perceive the world. If we zoom in even further, we see that the ear has much smaller components that equally affect our quality of life.
The Eustachian tube, a tube that connects the ear to the nose, is one of the vital small pieces that helps the ear function as it should. In fact, nearly 100% of problems inside the ear come from Eustachian tube dysfunction. If it’s stopped up, both our hearing and general comfort decline drastically.
While we’ve known this tube existed for hundreds of years, only recently have we found an effective way to treat its issues. With Eustachian tube balloon dilation, we can now resolve ear tube dysfunction with a safe, non-surgical procedure.
Here’s everything you need to know:
What are Eustachian Tubes?
Eustachian tubes, which connect the ear to the nose, allow the ear to ventilate and regulate pressure.
The ear has an air-filled cavity called the middle ear space. The only way this cavity can be aerated is through the back of the nose, via the Eustachian tube. This cavity always produces a small amount of fluid naturally. The fluid drains from the ear into the nose through the Eustachian tube.
These tubes are also how our bodies regulate pressure changes. When the ambient pressure in the environment changes (think flying high or diving deep), you have to equalize the pressure. The body does that through the Eustachian tubes.
How Eustachian Tube Balloon Dilation Works
Eustachian tube balloon dilation is the only procedure that exists to repair Eustachian tube dysfunction.
Until now, we didn’t have a great way to address Eustachian tube problems. Even 400-500 years ago, we have documented research of doctors trying to figure out how to make this tube work better. But until recently, there were few effective solutions. Our only option was inserting an ear tube through the eardrum to replace the function of the Eustachian tube temporarily by allowing the ear to directly aerate through the ear canal.
Eustachian tube balloon dilation now offers a way to address the problem at the source — the back of the nose. In this short procedure, we insert a balloon to dilate and enlarge this tube.
We start by thoroughly numbing the back of the nose where the Eustachian tube empties. We then insert the balloon up the tube and inflate it inside the tube. Once we inflate the balloon to the right pressure, we leave it inflated for two minutes. We then deflate the balloon and remove it.
During these few minutes, the balloon opens the Eustachian tube and brings significant improvement to function. The Eustachian tube is made from a combination of bone and cartilage. We inflate the portion that’s cartilage. While the effects are not permanent, research continues to show consistent improvement in tube functioning for one year or more.
Is Eustachian Tube Balloon Dilation Right for You?
Before we recommend this procedure to our patients, we rely on objective data to determine if it’s necessary.
Patients should consider Eustachian tube dilation if they:
- Previously needed one (or multiple) sets of ear tubes.
- Retain fluid in the ear that doesn’t go away and/or leads to multiple ear infections
Patients with fluid in the ear likely experience symptoms of aural fullness, pressure sensation, muffled hearing, hearing in a barrel, and occasional ear pain.
We rely on exam findings that indicate the need for improved fluid drainage to determine eligibility for ear balloon dilation, not on reported symptoms alone. For example, if a patient complains of ear pressure but has no history of fluid in the ear or ear tubes, we don’t opt for this procedure.
Eustachian Tube Balloon Dilation Risks
Eustachian tube balloon dilation risks are minimal — as is pain. It’s typically very well-tolerated in patients.
If you need tube balloon dilation, but elect not to have the procedure, symptoms of fullness, pressure, and muffled hearing will continue until you receive treatment, likely with an ear tube.
Not only are Eustachian tube balloon dilation risks minimal for health, but the success rate is also extremely high. Research shows up to 93% of patients report improvements in their symptoms.
Finally, we have the means to address the problem doctors have been working to solve since they first discovered this tube exists. And, we can fix it with relatively high success.
If you think Eustachian tube balloon dilation might be right for you, give us a call and we’ll evaluate your eligibility for this procedure. This may be just what you need to solve your symptoms and provide the relief you’ve been looking for — all without surgery or risk.
Dr. Cuthbertson is a physician at Ear Nose & Throat Associates of Lubbock. He joined the team at ENT Lubbock from Houston, where he was chief resident of the prestigious Bobby R. Alford Department of Otolaryngology at Baylor College of Medicine. He is board certified in Otolaryngology and Head & Neck Surgery and has quickly built a reputation, not only as an extremely skilled surgeon, but as an approachable and compassionate clinician adept in the newest standards and technologies. Learn more about Dr. Cuthbertson.