If you have ever felt a sudden onset of pain in your ear, it may have been an eardrum perforation. Although it is called the eardrum, it is not shaped like a drum at all. The correct name for the eardrum is the tympanic membrane. The eardrum is a thin, circular layer of tissue that connects the middle ear to the outer ear. Even though the eardrum does not look like a drum, the membrane acts like a drum in the way it can accept vibrations. When you think of a membrane, you may picture a thin, sensitive, and flimsy structure but the eardrum is much more than that.
According to Healthline, the tympanic membrane is approximately 14mg in weight, 8-10mm in diameter and 0.1mm thick. With those dimensions, it is hard to believe three separate layers make up the tympanic membrane: a cutaneous layer, a fibrous layer, and a mucous layer. Cartilage holds these layers in place. Although the layers are thin, they are also very durable. The layers together have flexibility and toughness that makes it difficult to damage.
Tympanic Membrane Function
The function of the eardrum is to not only connect the middle ear to the outer ear, but it has a significant role in hearing and protection. When sound vibrations travel through the ear canal, it strikes the membrane like a drumstick would a drum. Once it strikes the eardrum, it causes a vibration, and that membrane vibration vibrates the ossicles of the middle ear and creates a domino effect that leads to hearing. It then allows these vibrations to turn into nerve impulses that reach the brain. It also serves as a protective barrier for the middle ear and keeps unwanted germs and bacteria from entering the middle and inner ear. If the membrane is ruptured or perforated, that would be detrimental to your ability to hear.
Eardrum perforation is a fancy word for a hole in your eardrum. The eardrum is not easily ruptured or perforated, but there are several different ways perforations can happen. Eardrum perforations occur with infection, Eustachian tube dysfunction and injury. In some cases, an injury becomes the culprit. These injuries can happen in a matter of different ways. Being struck directly in the ear is one way. If you are hit hard enough, the membrane will rupture. A skull fracture also makes your eardrum susceptible to perforation. If the skull is fractured, there is a shift in the bones of the head which can move the tympanic membrane causing a perforation. You also have to be careful about putting things in your ear. When something enters too deep into the ear canal, it can poke the eardrum and perforate it. For this reason, doctors are suggesting you no longer use a cotton swab or Bobby pins to clean your ears. One of the last forms of injury is loud sounds or explosions. Sound travels by vibrations. When those vibrations are too strong, it will rupture the eardrum.
It may be hard to believe Eustachian tube dysfunction and ear infections would rupture the eardrum. Eustachian tube dysfunction weakens the tympanic membrane making it more susceptible to perforation. The infection itself does not rupture the eardrum, but the pressure from the infection does. When an ear infection occurs, pressure builds up. The ear contains fluid that passes through the Eustachian tube to the throat. In an ear infection, that fluid builds up and puts pressure on the eardrum. You would usually feel that pressure in the ear accompanied by pain. Once the eardrum is perforated, you will notice drainage coming from the ear and you will feel a decrease in pressure.
Symptoms of an Eardrum Perforation
Once the tympanic membrane is perforated, you will experience some hearing loss. The degree of hearing loss you experience depends on the size of the hole in the membrane. If only a small hole is found in the membrane, hearing loss will be minimal because vibrations can still be transmitted to the middle of the ear. With larger tears, you may lose your hearing altogether. In some instances, you may experience ringing in your ears. As stated previously, you may experience ear drainage. Another symptom of a perforated eardrum is pain or sometimes dizziness. The good news is that a perforated eardrum can be treated.
Treating Eardrum Perforations
After a diagnostic exam, the doctor can confirm that you have a ruptured eardrum. In most cases no direct treatment is needed. The tympanic membrane will heal itself. Depending on the severity of the perforation, it may take up to three months. In the case of an ear infection, antibiotics will be prescribed to reduce the pressure and remove the infection. You may also take pain medication to relieve the pain in the ear. In more severe cases, surgery is needed to repair the eardrum. The doctor may have to reattach the tissue of the eardrum.
You may have experienced an eardrum perforation and not even know it. With the eardrum being able to heal itself, you probably never had to go in to see a doctor. Eardrum perforations can be very painful, but they are avoidable. The best thing you can do is take caution when cleaning your ears. Make sure you do not allow anything to go into your ear too far, it may even be better to use a towel. When listening to music keep your headphones at a reasonable level. Along with that, use earplugs if you are going to be in an exceptionally loud place. There are certain things we cannot avoid such as sudden injury or explosions, but it is best to do what you know to do to prevent ear perforations.
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