Doctors call it the tympanic membrane, but to you, it’s the eardrum. You do not think about it usually unless something bad happens — such as a perforation. When there is a hole in one of your eardrums you have to pause for a while and see that it gets the proper attention.
The immediate aftermath
An audiological test at a Colorado hearing and balance clinic will confirm it, but you can expect some form of hearing loss immediately after your eardrum becomes damaged. The size of the hole matters, of course. A larger hole would lead to a more significant loss of hearing.
Furthermore, a huge hole would put your middle ear at risk for infection. Aside from its role in sound conduction, the tympanic membrane also protects the interior of the ear from incursion by potentially harmful microorganisms.
When the middle ear becomes exposed to water, it is more prone to infections such as otitis media. Watch out for the three main causes of eardrum perforation, and be aware of the potential damage they may cause.
Physical and acoustic trauma
Trauma is one of the most common causes of physical tearing of the tympanic membrane, which is found inside the ears. A head trauma incurred during a vehicular accident or while playing contact sports or a fall on the side of the head are typical mechanisms of injury.
A hard blow to the skull could result in hearing disruption. The forceful introduction of a sharp object into the ear canal — a pen, an earbud, or dangerous pointy weapons would likely lead to a rupture as well. Physical injury can also result in the absence of direct contact to the ear.
This occurs with exposure to noise levels higher than 85 decibels. Some examples of extreme loud noises known to have resulted in a burst eardrum are gunshots, bomb explosions, and a rock concert gone awry. This type of injury is known as acoustic trauma.
Unregulated pressure change and infection
For divers and other persons exposed to changes in atmospheric pressure, lack of pressure regulation may be a direct cause of eardrum perforation. A huge difference in pressure between the interior of the ear and the outside environment, coupled with a setting that does not allow the pressure to equalize is not good for the tympanic membrane.
Diving from a plane and scuba diving in the sea depths are situations that put the integrity of your eardrums at risk. Another common cause of tympanic membrane tearing is an ear infection, which leads to a build-up of fluids behind the eardrum.
Infection is the top cause of eardrum perforation among children. When the pressure is too much for the delicate membrane, it could burst. Most of the time, an eardrum perforation heals by itself without any medication or surgical intervention.
A surgical procedure where graft tissue (fascia) is used to repair the eardrum, may be required in more serious cases. When you suspect that your eardrum is not in good shape, see an ear, nose, and throat specialist immediately. Let timely diagnosis, innovative testing, and reliable medical intervention help you retain your sense of hearing.