The Burden and Epidemiology of Eustachian Tube Dysfunction in Adults

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Pediatric eustachian tube dysfunction (ETD), otitis media with effusion (OME), and tympanic membrane retraction (TMR) have been well studied, but no large analyses have described the associated burden beyond childhood. The potential impact and feasibility of prospective trials designed to optimize management of affected adults are thus unclear. Our objectives were therefore (1) to determine the national visit burden associated with ETD/OME/TMR beyond childhood and (2) to examine risk factors specific to adults, highlighting differences in comparison with children.

Study Design

Cross-sectional analysis of a national database.


Ambulatory visits in the United States.


Epidemiologic analysis of the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey and National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (2005-2012) included data from 761,291 observations representing 9,369,388,092 visits. Chi-square test with Bonferroni adjustment for multiple comparisons was utilized for hypothesis testing.


Visits related to ETD/OME/TMR exceeded 2 million per annum in patients 0 to 20 years of age (mean 2,625,965; range 2,239,288-3,329,858). Among those >20 years old, visits also exceeded 2 million (mean, 2,025,050; range, 1,550,669-2,353,799). Characteristics differed according to age: whereas ETD/OME/TMR affected more males <20 years, females were more frequently diagnosed in the older age group (P < .0001). Patients >20 to 40 years of age were the most likely to visit the emergency department (P = .0022). There were no statistically significant differences per season or region. The related diagnoses of cholesteatoma and chronic otitis media prompted additional visits.


ETD/OME/TMR is associated with a visit burden for adults that extends beyond childhood. Among adults, there may also be age-related differences in patient characteristics.

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