US burden of eustachian tube dysfunction higher than estimated, says study


ear health

©Hank Grebe - iStock

The number of US citizens with eustachian tube dysfunction (ETD), barring those with recent colds, was previously estimated at under 1%, but a new study puts the figure at 4.6%, some 11m people. And the researchers say their figure may underestimate the condition's true prevalence.

The eustachian tube runs from the middle ear, clearing fluid when open, and preventing transmission of pathogens, material, and sounds when closed. When not functioning properly, it can result in hearing loss, as well as aural fullness, otalgia, and autophony. ETD has associations with inflammatory disease, and is diagnosed through a combination of clinical history, physical examination, tympanometry, audiometry, and other tests.

Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, this latest research (corresponding author: Carrie L. Nieman, of the Cochlear Center for Hearing and Public Health, Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health) analysed data from 9098 adults aged 20 years or older from the 2001 to 2006 and 2009 to 2012 cycles of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The analysis excluded anyone suffering from a cold, sinus problem, or earache in the last 24 hours, and head cold or chest cold in the last 30 days. It was limited to diagnosis of ETD by tympanometry alone, excluding patulous and baro-challenge testing, hence the authors pointing out the "conservative approach" of their research, and suggesting they have likely underestimated the true prevalence of ETD.

"Nonetheless, to our knowledge, these data provide the first nationally representative estimates of the prevalence of ETD among US adults," say the authors, calling for more studies to "identify risk factors and causes, and advance both a clinical and a public health-driven approach to this common disorder".

Source: JAMA