Avoiding, Recognizing and Treating Ruptured Eardrums
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The eardrum is necessary for hearing because it vibrates in response to sound waves and conveys the vibrations to the brain, but in addition it works as a shield to isolate the inner ear and keep it clear of infection. Your inner ear is basically a protected, sterile environment when your eardrum is intact, but if it has been ruptured or torn, microbes are free to get in, and can bring about severe infections.
A ruptured eardrum – often called a perforated eardrum ortechnically, as a tympanic membrane perforation – is a puncture or tear in this thin important membrane. A punctured eardrum can occur as the result of many causes, the commonest of which is an ear infection, which in turn causes fluid to press against the membrane and finally cause it to tear. The eardrum may also be punctured as the result of poking objects into your ear, such as Q-tips or other products utilized in a misguided effort to remove ear wax on your own. Eardrums can also become ruptured due to scuba diving or flying due to barotrauma, which happens when the barometric pressure outside the ear is different from the pressure inside the ear. Sudden loud noises and explosions may also cause perforated ear drums. This is known as acoustic trauma.
Warning signs of ruptured eardrums include:
- Pain in the ear
- Hearing loss in the afflicted ear
- Vertigo or dizziness
- Fluid draining from the ear
If you experience any of these warning signs, see a specialist, because if the eardrum is punctured, immediate and appropriate treatment is essential to avoid infection and hearing damage. What you chance by not having these symptoms treated are major inner ear infections and cysts, and the potential for permanent loss of hearing.
At your visit the specialist will view the eardrum with an instrument called an otoscope. With its internal light, the otoscope gives the specialist a clear view of the eardrum. Perforated eardrums usually heal on their own in 2 to 3 months, as long as infection is avoided and as long as the person refrains from activities that could aggravate the situation, such as swimming or diving, avoiding medications outside of those prescribed for the condition, and attempting to not blow their nose while the healing is taking place. If the puncture or hole is close to the edge of the eardrum, the doctor can help the healing process by placing a temporary patch or dam to help protect against infection, or even suggest surgery.
Your doctor may also recommend over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications such as ibuprofen or aspirin to cope with pain. The key safety measures you can adopt to prevent ruptured eardums are to 1) avoid inserting any foreign objects into your ear canal, even to clean them, and 2) take care of ear infections promptly by visiting a hearing healthcare provider.
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