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Ruptured Eardrum- Why & How Does it Happen?

Perforated Tympanic Membranes (TMs) are considered one of the most common injuries to the human ear.

An eardrum is a thin and delicate membrane vital for hearing. It plays an integral role in transmitting sound waves to the inner ear. When the eardrum sustains a hole or tear, the condition is commonly called a ruptured eardrum. It is medically known as tympanic membrane perforation. This medical condition results in various challenges for an individual. But what causes it? Are there any ruptured eardrum signs to identify it? Can it be prevented or treated?

As with any other medical condition, several questions revolve around a ruptured eardrum. If you are curious to find the answer to all these questions, continue reading below as this post unearths the basics of a ruptured eardrum. 

Ruptured Eardrum Signs to Watch for

The ruptured eardrum symptoms are as follows:

  • Sharp pain in the ear that might subside quickly

  • Hearing loss

  • Ruptured eardrum discharge- mucus-like or pus-like liquid drainage from the ear

  • Spinning sensation, also known as vertigo

  • Ringing sensation in the ear (tinnitus)

  • Nausea and vomiting from vertigo

Lesser Known Ruptured Eardrum Causes

As explained below, a ruptured eardrum can be caused by several factors, including exterior and interior factors. 

  • Otitis media (Middle ear infection)- One of the common causes of ruptured eardrums is otitis media. It is an ear infection caused due to fluid accumulation in the middle ear. In these cases, sometimes the fluid pressure might result in eardrum rupture. 

  • Acoustic trauma- A ruptured eardrum is not only caused by internal factors. External causes of this condition include loud sounds and blasts. The source of these loud sounds can be a gunshot or an explosion. Although sources are not limited to these two, not every overpowering sound wave can cause this rupture. 

  • Barotrauma- Another common cause of eardrum rupture is Barotrauma. The stress on the eardrum due to an imbalance between the environment's air pressure and the middle ear's air pressure is known as Barotrauma. When severe pressure is exerted on the eardrum due to this imbalance, it can result in its rupture. In most cases, Barotrauma causes eardrum rupture when air pressure changes are observed during air travel. Some other instances where sudden pressure changes are observed include- direct air blow in the ear and scuba diving.

  • Foreign objects—Eardrum perforation can also result from small objects entering the ear. These objects, like hairpins or cotton swabs, can puncture or tear the eardrum. 

  • Severe head injury or trauma- Skull base fracture or other severe head trauma might result in a ruptured eardrum as well. Such injuries cause damage or dislocation of the eardrum or other inner and middle ear structures.

Treatment & Prevention

If you observe any ruptured eardrum signs, you must immediately call or visit your healthcare professional. Most minor perforation cases heal without needing treatment within a few weeks. Some severe cases might need medical treatment. A doctor might also prescribe you antibiotics if the cause of eardrum perforation is an infection. If it does not heal on its own, one of the following treatment ways is opted for:

  • Eardrum patch—If your ruptured eardrum does not heal itself, an ENT specialist might choose an eardrum patch method. In this treatment process, the specialists seal the hole or tear with a paper or other material patch. They might also apply a chemical before patching to the edges of the rupture that promotes healing. The ENT specialist repeats this process until the tear is repaired.

  • Surgery- If the eardrum patch treatment does not work, the ENT specialist might recommend surgery. The most common option is tympanoplasty. It involves grafting a patch of your tissue to close the hole or tear in the membrane. It is rare as most heal independently or with the patching method. However, even if tympanoplasty is recommended, you need not worry as it's not lengthy. You can go home the same day unless the doctor advises you to stay due to anaesthesia conditions.

By following specific tips, you can avoid a ruptured eardrum. These tips include :

  • In-time treatment for middle ear infections- Middle ear infections are among the most common causes. Therefore, you must pay attention to the signs and symptoms of these infections. Please consult your healthcare provider to get them treated quickly. These signs include nasal congestion, fever, earache, and reduced hearing. 

  • Keep foreign objects away from your ear- Another way to prevent this condition is to avoid putting foreign objects in your ear. For this, you must not use any foreign object to dig out hardened or excess earwax, as they can easily tear the delicate membrane. Children must also be kept from these objects and prevented from putting foreign objects in their ears. 

  • Protect your ears during flight- You must wear pressure-equalizing earplugs when flying. You can also try chewing gum or yawning. Also, avoid flying if you have a cold or an ongoing allergy that results in ear or nasal congestion. 

  • Prevent your ears from explosive noise- Stay away from activities that cause explosive noises. However, remember to wear earmuffs or earplugs if your work or hobbies involve such activities.

Final Thoughts

A ruptured eardrum or perforated eardrum can be caused due to varying internal or external causes. Therefore, they can be seen in people of any age. Although it usually heals on its own, it is crucial to follow preventative measures to prevent it from happening in the first place. Being aware of it is significant in avoiding it and getting it treated on time. Also, if you observe ruptured eardrum signs, immediately visit an ENT specialist instead of waiting for it to heal. The specialist must decide the treatment path for you after examining the severity.


The Author : Dr. Sunil Khattri 

+91 9811618704

Dr. Sunil Khattri MBBS, MS(General Surgery), LLB, is a Medical doctor and is a practicing Advocate in the Supreme Court of India and National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, New Delhi.

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