A Ruptured Eardrum: What Is It and How to Recognize It

Your eardrum performs two vital functions: naturally, it vibrates when it senses sound waves, but it also works as a barrier to guard the sensitive inner ear from infection. When fully intact, the eardrum isolates the inner ear setting up a clean and sterile environment. When the ear drum is perforated or torn, the inner ear is left vulnerable to bacterial infections.

The terms perforated eardrum and ruptured eardrum mean the same thing. They both describe a condition whose technical name is a tympanic membrane perforation in which there is a puncture or tear in the very thin membrane we call the eardrum. There are several causes of punctured eardrums. The most common is an inner ear infection. Fluid at the site of the infection presses up against the eardrum membrane, increasing pressure until it ultimately rips. The eardrum can also be punctured from inserting foreign objects into your ear, including cotton swabs or other objects utilized in a misguided attempt to remove ear wax on your own. An additional frequent root cause is barotrauma – the problem that happens when the barometric pressure inside the ear is different from the pressure outside the ear – which may happen in scuba diving and in airplanes. Head injuries or acoustic trauma (such as exposure to sudden loud noises or explosions) may also puncture the eardrum.

Warning signs of punctured eardrums include pain in the ear (including persistent pain that stops suddenly), hearing difficulties in the afflicted ear, dizziness or vertigo, and fluid draining from the ear. If you experience any of these symptoms, see a specialist, because if the eardrum is perforated, immediate and appropriate treatment is essential to prevent hearing damage and infection. Untreated, a ruptured eardrum can lead to middle and inner ear infections, middle ear cysts (cholesteatoma), and permanent hearing loss.

At your visit the health care provider will look at the eardrum through an instrument called an otoscope. Because of its internal light, the otoscope gives the specialist a clear view of the eardrum. Punctured eardrums normally heal by themselves in eight to 12 weeks. During this time period, your healthcare provider will probably counsel you to avoid diving and swimming and to refrain from blowing your nose as much as possible. It’s also wise to avoid any extraneous medications. For rips along the edges of the eardrum, the health care provider might want to insert a temporary dam or patch which helps reduce the risk of infection. In very rare cases, surgery may be recommended.

Pain from a punctured eardrum is typically managed with over-the-counter pain killers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Not every ruptured eardrum can be averted, but there are things you can do to decrease your risk. Always get immediate treatment for any ear infections and do not place any foreign objects into your ear (even for cleaning).

Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Comments are closed.