Most of us are familiar with the term eardrum and know that it is an important part of the human ear. But, what happens when it gets perforated? In order to understand the answer, it will be better to have a basic idea about the structure and function of the ear. The ear consists of three parts - inner, middle and outer ear.
The visible part of the ear, i.e., pinna, followed by the canal (ear canal) that leads to the middle ear and the eardrum, consists of the outer ear. The inner ear is made up of a small cavity which is filled with air and has three bones (ossicles). The eustachian tube connects this cavity to the nose and the throat. The middle ear consists of the cochlea (a coiled tube with two fluid-filled chambers) and the auditory nerve.
Eardrum - Structure and Functioning
The eardrum is the thin, oval-shaped membrane, that is located at the end of the ear canal. The eardrum is otherwise known as tympanic membrane, tympanum or myrinx. Eardrum has three layers - a thin outer layer made of skin, followed by a fibrous layer that gives the structure rigidity and a thin inner layer made of mucous membrane. The eardrum separates the middle ear from the outer ear and protects the inner structures. The eardrum is so named because of its drum-like appearance. The main function of the eardrum is transmission of sound waves from outside to the ossicles in the middle ear.
The sound waves travel through the ear canal to reach the eardrum and make the eardrum vibrate. These vibrations are transmitted to the ossicles, which amplify it and transmit to the inner ear. Inside the inner ear, the amplified vibrations pass through the cochlea, which has numerous, fine hair cells that move as per the vibrations. This movement of hair cells create an electric signal, which is transmitted to the brain through the auditory nerve, and this enables us to hear. Now, you know more about eardrum and its functioning. Any perforation in the eardrum can cause various symptoms and affect the ability to hear.
What Causes a Perforated Eardrum
An eardrum, being a very thin structure, can easily get ruptured. When an eardrum develops holes or tears, it is called a ruptured or perforated eardrum. The common causes are infection (viral, fungal or bacterial) or trauma. Middle ear infection is most commonly found to cause such perforation. Middle ear infection increases the pressure in the area (inside the ear), causing the eardrum to stretch. As the pressure increases, the eardrum loses its elasticity and ruptures.
Trauma can be of any type, like a motor vehicle accident, a tight slap on areas near the ear, scuba diving that causes change in ear pressure, hard falls and loud unbearable noises. Some people have the habit of inserting foreign bodies inside the ear. These foreign bodies like cotton swab (used to remove earwax), may also injure the structure and rupture it. It may also happen that variations in air pressure (inside and outside the ear), can cause perforation of the eardrum in some people. This condition may be experienced by air passengers, when the plane changes altitudes.
- Discomfort in the ear
- Ear pain, weakness
- Loss of hearing (partial or total)
- Ringing of the ear (tinnitus)
- A sensation of spinning (vertigo)
- Mucus or blood discharge from the ear
- Nausea or vomiting
The degree of hearing loss is also proportional to the size and nature of the hole or tear in the eardrum. In most cases, hearing loss is temporary and subsides, as the eardrum heals. In case of ear infections, the discharge may contain pus and blood. Bleeding is often associated with perforation caused by foreign bodies. An eardrum rupture may also cause a change in taste. Some people may experience a feeling of air coming out of the ear, while blowing nose. This condition may lead to ear infections, which if left untreated, may cause serious complications.
Usually, diagnostic tests like otoscopy (ear examination with a otoscope) and hearing test are conducted, to detect the condition. Most of the mild cases heal on their own, within a period of one to two months. During this time, the doctor may ask you to take analgesics for pain relief and antibiotics to prevent infection. In some people, an eardrum patch may be required to close the hole.
Severe cases require surgery to repair the perforation of the eardrum. This surgical procedure is called myringoplasty. In short, if you experience any of the perforated eardrum symptoms, consult an ENT specialist immediately. If the condition is caused by a foreign object, wait for the doctor to remove it. You may cause further damage to the eardrum by removing it on your own. If left untreated, such perforation can cause infection, middle ear cyst or hearing loss.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice. Visiting your physician is the safest way to diagnose and treat any health condition.