What is Perforated Eardrum?
The ear canal has a thin, oval layer of tissue known as eardrum or tympanic membrane. The function of the tympanic membrane is protecting the fragile middle and inner ear from the external environment. Tympanic membrane resembles and acts like a drum, hence it is also called as eardrum. The eardrum transmits the vibrations received from the outer ear to the small hearing bones known as ossicles present in the middle ear. The tympanic membrane is very delicate and thin. Due to this, it can be ruptured or punctured easily resulting in a hole. This condition is known as ruptured or perforated eardrum or punctured eardrum. It makes the middle and inner ear more accessible to damage or infection. A person with a perforated eardrum has a very uncomfortable feeling but this condition usually heals in a few weeks on its own. Perforated or punctured eardrum may be a result of an impact, trauma, infection, or a loud noise.
Causes of Perforated Eardrum
- Trauma such as injury to the head or any object inserted into the ear such as a cotton bud.
- Loud noises such as fireworks, gunshots and explosion.
- Ear infection leads to accumulation of pus inside the ear which puts pressure on the eardrum causing it to rupture.
- Abrupt changes in air pressure such as scuba diving, flying, driving at high altitudes, going up in an elevator very fast or sky diving.
- Falling onto the side of the head.
- Injuries when playing sports.
- Slap to the ear.
- Motor vehicle accidents.
Symptoms of Perforated Eardrum
- Loss of hearing. The degree of hearing loss depends on the extent of the tear/perforation.
- Ear pain.
- Buzzing or ringing in the ear.
- Mucus or bloody discharge from the ear.
- If a patient experiences difficulty in walking, rapid spinning sensation, alteration in the tasting ability and sudden change in hearing then immediate medical attention should be sought.
- Life threatening symptoms include: Neck stiffness, high grade fever, severe headache, weakness or numbness in face, arms, or legs, difficulty in opening mouth or talking, persistent
- vomiting, swelling or pain behind the ear, sudden vision changes and sleepiness.
Treatment of Perforated Eardrum
- Patient should consult a doctor.
- The doctor will examine the ear with an otoscope to find out if the eardrum has torn and its severity.
- Majority of the perforated eardrums heal by themselves within 6-8 weeks.
- Painkillers or antiinflammatory medicines can be taken to relieve pain and discomfort.
- If the cause of the perforation is an infection, then the doctor may prescribe antibiotics.
- If the cause of the perforation is a foreign body, then it should be removed by the doctor. Patient should never try to remove any foreign body on his/her own as this could cause more damage.
- The ear must be kept dry and sudden pressure changes should be avoided while healing. Activities such as swimming, diving and flying should be avoided until complete healing of the eardrum.
- In severe cases, if the eardrum does heal on its own, then surgery may be required. Surgery comprises of a procedure known as myringoplasty where a small skin graft from above the ear is used to repair the eardrum.
Prevention of Perforated or Punctured Eardrum
- Ear infections needs to be treated immediately.
- If someone is suffering from a sinus infection or upper respiratory tract infection, flying or recreational activities such as scuba diving should be avoided.
- When scuba diving or flying, the nose should be pinched and try to swallow air frequently to equalize the pressure.
- Never put any foreign object in your ear, even for cleaning purpose.
- Always wear proper ear protection such as ear plugs when playing any sports.