The eardrum, also called the tympanic membrane, plays an essential role in the hearing process. This thin, flexible tissue, comprised of three layers, separates the outer ear from the middle ear. As soundwaves enter the ear, they strike the eardrum, which vibrates in response, transmitting the vibrations to the bones of the middle ear. Occasionally, the eardrum can rupture, causing hearing loss and leaving you vulnerable to infections.
What Is a Ruptured Eardrum?
A ruptured eardrum is a hole or tear in this thin tissue wall. While a ruptured eardrum typically heals within a few weeks without treatment, it sometimes requires a patch or surgical repair in order to heal.
Symptoms of a ruptured eardrum may include:
- Ear pain that subsides quickly
- Drainage that is mucus-like, pus-filled or bloody
- Hearing loss (temporary or permanent)
- Tinnitus, or ringing in the ear
What Causes a Ruptured Eardrum?
There are many factors that can cause an eardrum to rupture. These include:
- Middle ear infection. This type of infection causes fluids to build up in the middle ear. Pressure from this fluid buildup can cause the eardrum to rupture.
- Foreign objects in the ear. Small objects like cotton swabs and hairpins – tools that are often used to clean the ears – can all too easily puncture the eardrum. You should never clean your ears yourself; visit an ENT if you suspect impacted earwax.
- Head trauma. A severe injury like a skull base fracture can dislocate or damage the delicate structures within the ear, including the eardrum.
- Barotrauma. This is a type of stress exerted on the eardrum when air pressure between the middle ear and environment is not equal. This type of trauma can occur during air travel, when scuba diving or during an airbag deployment.
- Acoustic trauma. This type of trauma is caused by a loud sound or blast, like an explosion. This is a fairly rare cause of a ruptured eardrum.
When to Visit a Doctor
While a ruptured eardrum is not serious in most cases, it is important to call your doctor right away if you exhibit symptoms of a ruptured eardrum. Left untreated, a ruptured eardrum can result in permanent hearing loss, infection or a middle ear cyst known as cholesteatoma.
For more information or to schedule an appointment, call Arizona Desert ENT Specialists today.