New procedure to help patients suffering chronic ear plugging
There may be hope on the horizon for patients suffering from chronic ear plugging who have been waiting for medical breakthroughs to help with treatment.
In the past year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved new devices to help dilate the Eustachian tube, a small passageway that connects your throat to your middle ear. When this tube doesn’t function properly, your ears may feel plugged.
The FDA-approved devices are inserted through the nostril without any external incisions, then moved into the Eustachian tube opening and inflated for a few seconds to achieve dilation.
Initial trials have been promising. In one study, over 50 percent of patients that received dilation showed normal ear function compared to 14 percent receiving traditional therapy.
Endoscopic balloon dilation of the Eustachian tubes uses the same technology as balloon sinus surgery to dilate the narrow passages that connect the middle ear space to the back of the nose (nasopharynx) to help support the hearing mechanisms of the ears via pressure equalization.
Potential causes of Eustachian tube dysfunction include mucosal inflammation around the tubes from factors such as nasal allergies and acid reflux.
In the past, this condition was medically treated via nasal sprays or placement of artificial ventilating tubes (ear tubes) on the ear drum. Medical treatment is often unsuccessful, and ear tube placement often has to be repeated several times because tubes tend to have a limited lifespan.
However, long-term studies are still ongoing and it is not yet clear how frequently, if at all, the dilation would need to be repeated. A possible risk of the procedure is injury to the carotid arteries, which supply blood to the brain, head, neck and face and are located close to the Eustachian tubes — so this should be a consideration for the patient as well.
The age-old treatment of ear tube placement is still a simple in-office procedure (for adults) with minimal risks. At the very least, balloon dilation is offering hope for a potential long-term solution.
About The Author
Sepehr Oliaei, MD, is an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat specialist) at MultiCare ENT, Sinus & Allergy Specialists - Tacoma. To schedule an appointment or evaluation, call 253-403-0065.More stories by this author