Few people in Lexington or Columbia give their ears a second thought. Most of the time they do their jobs quite well, allowing us to hear and maintain our balance. But should you have the misfortune of experiencing a burst eardrum, suddenly your ears will be all you can think about!
Signs of a Ruptured Eardrum
A burst eardrum, or rupture in the tympanic membrane, is extremely painful. It can make even the toughest individual beg for mercy (or mommy). Fortunately, ruptured eardrums are rare. Symptoms include sharp pain that should subside fairly quickly, hearing loss, tinnitus (ringing in the ear), dizziness, nausea or vomiting and discharge from the ear.
Should you experience these symptoms, seek medical attention as soon as possible. It’s unlikely any loss in hearing will be permanent, but getting yourself checked out promptly increases your odds of a full, complication-free recovery.
To check for an eardrum perforation, your Lexington audiologist will examine your ear canal with a lighted instrument called an otoscope. Not all ruptures are easily visible, so you may be given a middle ear pressure test and a pure tone air or bone conduction test just to be sure. These will provide your audiologist with information on the severity of your hearing loss and guide them toward a treatment plan.
What Causes an Eardrum Perforation?
The three most common causes of a perforated eardrum are:
- Ear Infection. An ear infection is the most common cause of a ruptured eardrum. This occurs when fluid collects in the middle ear, creating pressure that eventually leads to a burst eardrum. Because ear infections most often affect young children, who are likely to be experiencing pain and discomfort long before a break in the tympanic membrane, they’ll probably be receiving treatment for an ear infection long before the eardrum has a chance to burst.
- Sudden Changes in Pressure. A sudden change in air pressure is another leading cause of an eardrum perforation. This occurs when the pressure difference outside and inside the ear is considerable; scuba diving, air travel, high altitudes and shock waves are the most common factors in pressure changes.
- Injury or Trauma. Ear or head trauma resulting from an accident can cause an eardrum to burst without warning. Damage can also occur when exposed to an extremely loud noise such as a gunshot or explosion. It’s always best to wear a helmet when playing contact sports and invest in proper hearing protection if you are an avid hunter. And leave the fireworks to the professionals!
Your Lexington audiologist may let your burst eardrum heal on its own without intervention. Most perforations are small enough to close up over time. Larger ruptures may require surgery; when this is the case, your doctor will use tissue grafts to partially or completely replace the eardrum, depending on the extent of damage.