Perforated Eardrums: Causes, Prevention, Indicators and Treatment

Your eardrum serves two very important functions: naturally, it vibrates when it senses sound waves, but it also serves as a barrier to protect the sensitive inner ear from infection. Whenever your eardrum is fully intact, your inner ear is basically a protected and sterile environment; however when it has been perforated or torn, harmful bacteria have a way to get in and spark a major infection generally known as otitis media.

A ruptured eardrum – also known as a perforated eardrum ormedically, as a tympanic membrane perforation – is a puncture or tear in this very thin important membrane. A ruptured eardrum has many possible causes, the commonest being an ear infection, which in turn causes fluid to push against the membrane and finally cause it to rip. The eardrum may also be perforated from poking objects into your ear, such as cotton swabs or other objects used in a misguided effort to clear away ear wax on your own. Yet another common root cause is barotrauma – the circumstance that occurs when the barometric pressure outside the ear is very different from the pressure inside the ear – which can occur while scuba diving or flying. Loud noises and explosions can also cause ruptured ear drums. This phenomenon is known as acoustic trauma.

Warning signs of ruptured eardrums include:

  • Pain in the ear
  • Hearing loss in the afflicted ear
  • Dizziness or vertigo
  • Fluid draining from the ear

If you experience any of these symptoms, see a specialist, because if the eardrum is perforated, prompt and correct treatment is important to avoid infection and hearing damage. Untreated, a ruptured eardrum can lead to middle and inner ear infections, middle ear cysts (cholesteatoma), and permanent hearing loss.

Doctors diagnose this condition using an otoscope, which is an instrument with an internal light which allows them to see the eardrum. Punctured eardrums normally heal by themselves in 2 to 3 months. During this time period, your healthcare provider will most likely counsel you to avoid diving and swimming and to refrain from blowing your nose if possible. It’s also advisable to avoid any non-essential medications. For rips along the edges of the eardrum, the health care provider might want to put in a temporary dam or patch which helps reduce the risk of infection. In very rare cases, surgical treatment may be suggested.

Pain from a punctured eardrum is typically managed with over-the-counter (OTC) pain killers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Not every perforated eardrum can be avoided, but there are things you can do to decrease your chances. Always get timely treatment for any ear infections and don’t insert any objects into your ear.

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