Ear Mystery, Solved

In many cases, taking a good history and asking some pointed questions can solve a medical problem without resorting to medications. For example, I saw a man in his late 30’s who came to see me with 3 days of left ear sound distortion and reverberation with mild fullness. He had no other problems, including hearing loss. His exam was completely normal. Most doctors at this point will give a diagnosis of Eustachian tube dysfunction, where due to mild nasal inflammation, the tube that connects to the ear is partially blocked, leading to pressure changes that can cause ear problems. Many patients will walk out the door with prescription allergy mediations or over-the-counter decongestants.

After going through my standard list of questions addressing what changes or lifestyle issues that he’s been going through, it turns out that his wife delivered their first child 2 weeks ago. Obviously, this can be detrimental to sleep. Upon further probing, he admitted to working later the last few days, coming home late, and eating just before going to bed. He also had some alcohol late at night as well. To top it off, he normally likes to sleep on his left side.


The history alone solved the puzzle: He normally likes to sleep on his side to partially compensate for his tongue falling back during deep sleep (due to muscle relaxation). When he ate late the last few days, every time he stops breathing even temporarily he sucks up small amounts of stomach juices into his throat, and since he’s lying on his left side, it can easily travel to his left Eustachian tube, causing mild swelling and partial blockage. He also noted afterwards that he has post-nasal drip and mild throat clearing, which is consistent with reflux in the throat.


He was advised to eat dinner much earlier and avoid alcohol close to bedtime. This should be a life-long habit. Another great example of using my sleep-breathing paradigm to solve a medical problem without the need to give to medications.



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One thought on “Ear Mystery, Solved

  1. This is an excellent article. Finally I knnow the causes of my rhinosinusitis, acid reflux and sleep apnea.

    Thanks a lot.