What is an Eardrum Perforation
Your eardrum, also known as the tympanic membrane, is a thin tissue that separates your outer ear canal from your middle ear. Noise and sounds cause the eardrum to vibrate, which then ultimately leads to nerve impulses being sent along the auditory nerve to the brain so you can hear.
An eardrum perforation, also known as a ruptured eardrum, is when a small hole or tear occurs in the eardrum, or tympanic membrane. If the eardrum is damaged, it can cause temporary loss of hearing, or in severe cases, permanent hearing loss.
What Causes an Eardrum Perforation
There are several potential causes for a perforated eardrum. The most common causes can include:
Injuries or Trauma
Any contact with the eardrum, ear, or even the side of your head can cause the eardrum to rupture. Injuries causing eardrum perforations are most common from sports, falling, and car accidents. Another common cause of injury to the eardrum is from inserting an object into the ear, such as a cotton swab, finger, or pen.
Most commonly occurring in children, ear infections can also cause a perforated eardrum. When an ear infection occurs, fluid accumulates behind the eardrum. If the pressure builds from the accumulation of fluid, it can cause the eardrum to rupture.
If the pressure on the outside of the eardrum is substantially different than the pressure on the inside of the eardrum, it can cause a perforated eardrum, specifically known as barotrauma. Large pressure differences can be caused by the following:
- Traveling in an airplane
- Scuba diving
- Direct impact to the ear
Diagnosing and Treating Eardrum Perforations
Diagnosing perforated eardrums usually involves your doctor performing a physical examination, usually including taking a sample of the fluids that may be leaking from your ear, or viewing your eardrum with an otoscope, which is a lighted device that your doctor can insert into your outer ear canal.
Treatment for perforated eardrums mainly focuses on reducing pain and eliminating an infection if there is one, which will help the eardrum to heal on its own. If your eardrum isn't healing properly, your doctor may patch the eardrum, which involves placing a medicated patch paper over the perforated part of the eardrum.
Treatment may also involve antibiotics to help get rid of the infection. In some cases, surgery may be required to patch the eardrum. The surgical procedure for a perforated eardrum is called a tympanoplasty, which involves taking tissue from another area of your body and grafting it to the damaged portion of your eardrum.