Ear & Balance

Plugged Or Blocked Ears? It May Be Eustachian Tube Dysfunction

January 16, 2020
plugged or blocked ears it may be eustachian tube dysfunction

In between your middle ears and the upper part of the throat lies small tubes that equalize ear pressure and drain fluid from behind the eardrum. These tubes are known as Eustachian tubes and are usually closed except for when you are chewing, swallowing or yawning.


Sometimes, they can get plugged and there is a variety of reasons why that happens – which is also called Eustachian tube dysfunction or ETD.


Eustachian tube dysfunction can result in symptoms like pain in one or both ears, tinnitus, hearing difficulties and a sensation of blocked ears. Depending on the cause, it may be resolved by nasal sprays or require a medical procedure. If it is recurring, you need to consult an ENT specialist in Singapore.



What are the causes?


Allergies and illnesses that affect the throat and nose area are the most common causes of ETD. Sinus infections and illnesses like the flu, cold or sinus infection can affect the eustachian tubes, causing inflammation or clogging the passages with mucus.

Another common cause is a change in altitude or air pressure. This is usually experienced when in an elevator, flying in a plane, or traveling in mountainous regions but symptoms for these typically resolve faster than illnesses.



What are the symptoms?


Middle Ear Infection


The most common symptoms include:


  • Blocked ears
  • Having a sensation of water in the ears
  • Tinnitus or a ringing sound
  • Trouble balancing
  • Popping or ticking sound


Sometimes there’s pain and tenderness around the ear. The duration of the symptoms often varies depending on the cause of the ETD. If it is caused by an infection or mucus build-up due to an illness, the symptoms will persist for longer and will be more pronounced. If the symptoms persist for more than a week, make an appointment with an ENT specialist in Singapore and seek treatment.



Who is at risk of experiencing ETD?


Sick boy


Small children will often experience ETD since they get respiratory illnesses more frequently and their eustachian tubes are immature and lie more horizontally, which makes them less effective. This makes it much easier for mucus and germs to reach the middle ear and become trapped. They are also more prone to infections as their immune systems are still developing, thus making it harder to fight off infections.


Other groups of people who are at greater risk for ETD include smokers and overweight people. Smoking can increase the chances of mucus gathering in the tubes as the protective hairs in the middle ear, known as cilia, are damaged. In obesity, fatty deposits can accumulate around the eustachian tubes. People with allergy conditions such as persistent rhinitis can cause more mucus to develop, thus increasing the chance of congestion.



Safe home treatments


Symptoms for ETD can usually be resolved without treatments. This includes doing exercises to open up the tubes such as yawning, swallowing and chewing gum. You can also try taking a deep breath, pinching your nostrils and “blowing” with your mouth shut. A decongestant or nasal steroid sprays can also be used to reduce the swelling of the tube lining.


However, if you are experiencing severe symptoms and they persist for more than two weeks, the best action to take is to consult an ENT Specialist. Your doctor will examine your nasal passages as well as ear canals and ear drums, perform a hearing test and recommend the appropriate course of treatment. Surgery may be indicated in patients with severe or chronic ETD to relieve pressure of blockage in your ears and restore your hearing. The most surgery to relieve an ETD is the insertion of ventilation tubes in the eardrums (known as myringotomy tubes). Balloon dilation of the Eustachian tubes is a fairly recent surgical option that may be suitable in some patients with persistent ETD that has failed medical treatments.


If you don’t treat the underlying cause of ETD, the situation could get worse and you may develop a condition known as Otitis Media with Effusion (OME) or the “Glue Ear” (fluid behind the eardrum). Some patients can also develop eardrum retraction. You can reduce your risk of developing ETD by treating the underlying cause like allergies, cold or the flu. 


Medically reviewed by Dr Gan Eng Cern

When Should You See an ENT Specialist in Singapore?

  • Any ear, nose or throat symptoms that you are troubled with or concerned about
  • Persistent blocked nose with mouth breathing or snoring

Dr Gan Eng Cern

Dr Gan Eng Cern is a distinguished ENT doctor with fellowship training. In addition to his clinical practice as an ear, nose and throat specialist in Singapore, Dr. Gan has contributed to the academic field as a Senior Clinical Lecturer at the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore. He is recognised for his extensive research work, with numerous contributions to reputable international ENT journals. Dr Gan is also highly sought after as a speaker and has shared his surgical knowledge as a surgical dissection teacher at various prominent ENT conferences and courses.


  • 2020 – Reader’s Choice Gold Award for Best ENT Specialist (Expat Living Singapore)
  • 2016 – Best Educator Award (Eastern Health Alliance)
  • 2016 – “Wow” Award (Patient Compliment)
  • 2014 – Eastern Health Alliance Caring Award – Silver
  • 2014 – 19th Yahya Cohen Memorial Lectureship (awarded by the College of Surgeons, Academy of Medicine Singapore for best scientific surgical paper)
  • 2012 – Human Manpower Development Award (Ministry of Health, Singapore)
  • 2007 – Singhealth Best Doctor Award


  • MBBS – Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia)
  • MRCS (Edin) – Member of the Royal College of Surgeons Edinburgh, United Kingdom
  • MMed (ORL) – Master of Medicine in ENT (National University of Singapore)
  • FAMS – Fellow of the Academy of Medicine Singapore

Why Choose Dr Gan Eng Cern


Reliable & Reputable ENT Expert

Experienced and patient ENT Specialist who has your best interests at heart. We aim to provide you with accessible and specialized care for any ENT condition in a comfortable setting.


Friendly & Helpful Clinic Staff

Our friendly staff will assist you to the best of our ability and we are happy to accept most insurance providers and assist with E-filing with relevant insurance providers or Medisave.


Advanced ENT Equipment & Fully Equipped Facility

Our ENT Specialist, Dr Gan Eng Cern, will be able to diagnose and offer personalised treatments for your specific ENT condition. You can expect a high level of ENT care in a spacious setting with in-house minor surgical, endoscopy, allergy testing and microscopy services.


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There are various financial options available for you to ensure that you are able to receive the most optimal treatment and care. Our ENT clinic staff will be able to assist you with your medical insurance claims and work with your chosen healthcare organization to minimize the hassle and paperwork required. In some cases, you may be able to utilise the funds in your Medisave account to defray part of the costs of your treatment. As our clinic is accredited by the Medisave board, we are able to process your claims from your Medisave for certain clinic procedures.

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