Ruptured Eardrum - Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

By: peterhutch

The eardrum is a membrane that separates the outer ear from the middle ear. It vibrates when sound waves strike it, and this starts the process that converts the sound wave into a nerve impulse that travels to the brain. When the eardrum is damaged, the hearing process is interrupted. The eardrum also acts as a barrier to keep outside material from entering the middle ear.

Causes

The eardrum may be perforated when a sharp object is inserted in the ear, such as: a cotton swab or paper clip to clean the ear or relieve an itch; or by an object accidentally entering the ear, such as an unseen low-hanging twig on a tree or a thrown pencil. The eardrum may also be perforated by a sudden increase in inward pressure in the ear, such as with a slap; a swimming or diving accident;? a nearby explosion.

A middle ear infection may cause your eardrum to rupture as the pressure of the fluid in your middle ear increases. Conversely, a ruptured eardrum can lead to an infection because your eardrum is no longer intact, allowing bacteria to enter your middle ear.

The eardrum also acts as a barrier to keep outside material (such as bacteria) from entering the middle ear. When the eardrum is perforated, bacteria can easily travel to the middle ear -- causing an infection.

Small objects such as a cotton swab or bobby pin pushed too far into your ear canal can rupture your eardrum. Attempts to clean earwax (cerumen) from your ear can damage your eardrum and cause infection of your outer ear canal (swimmer's ear).

Symptoms

A ruptured ear drum is often quite painful. Common symptoms include sharp and sudden pain or discomfort in the ear, loss in hearing, ringing in the ear (called 'Tinnitus'), pus from the ear, blood from the ear, and even a decrease in the ear pain followed by pus or blood from the ear.

Treatment

Medical treatment may include antibiotics to prevent or treat infection. Minor pain may be treated with an aspirin substitute like acetaminophen.

Acetaminophen should not be taken by anyone with known liver or kidney disease. Do not drink alcohol when taking more than 1 dose of acetaminophen. A ruptured eardrum will usually repair itself within 2 months, providing it does not become infected. Hearing is not usually affected permanently. Surgery may be needed for large or unhealed small holes.

Antibiotics may be used to prevent infection or to treat an existing infection. Analgesics , including over-the-counter medications, may be used to relieve pain. Occasionally, the health care provider may place a patch over the eardrum while it heals. Surgical repair of the eardrum may be needed, if the eardrum does not heal on its own ( tympanoplasty ).

Surgery: If your doctor determines that a paper patch won't provide prompt and adequate closure of the tear or hole in your eardrum, or if attempts with paper patching fail to heal the damage, you may need surgery. During a procedure called tympanoplasty, your surgeon places a tissue patch across the perforation, allowing it to heal. Tympanoplasty is often successful in closing the tear or hole permanently and restoring hearing. This procedure is done on an outpatient basis, meaning you can go home the same day.

Ear Nose and Throat
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