An eardrum is a thin membrane that separates the outer ear from the middle ear. In this article, we will look into the causes of a retracted eardrum along with the symptoms and treatment options.
The human ear is a sensory organ that not only enables us to hear varied sounds, but also helps in maintaining the balance of the body. The ear is divided into the outer ear, middle ear and the inner ear. There are various interconnected structures in the ear that work together to facilitate hearing. Once the sound waves enter through the outer ear, they get amplified by the ear canal. These waves strike a thin membrane called eardrum. It is at the eardrum that the waves convert into mechanical vibrations.
These vibrations pass on to the hammer, anvil and stirrup. These are three interconnected bones that are located in the middle ear. Once the waves reach the inner ear, the vibrations in the cells present in cochlea lead to the generation of electrical impulses. These electrical impulses are carried by auditory nerve to the auditory cortex of the brain, where these are interpreted. This is how, we hear different types of sounds. So, now you have some idea on the role played by eardrum in facilitating the process of hearing.
While overzealous cleaning of ears, loud explosions or trauma can cause a perforated eardrum, pressure changes can also cause certain ear problems. A retracted eardrum, which is also called tympanic membrane retraction, is one such condition wherein the eardrum gets pulled into the middle ear due to pressure changes. Is this a serious condition? Wondering what causes an eardrum to retract? Here’s some information that will provide you with the answers to these questions.
What Causes the Eardrum to Retract?
Under normal circumstances, the air pressure on both sides of the eardrum is almost the same. The pressure is maintained with the help of Eustachian tube, a tube that connects the middle ear to the nasopharynx. Eustachian tube helps in equalizing air pressure and also facilitates the drainage of secretions from the middle ear. Thus, it helps in preventing ear infections. The eardrum gets retracted whenever a negative pressure builds up behind the eardrum. This happens due to an Eustachian tube dysfunction.
The Eustachian tube can get blocked due to upper respiratory infections, inflamed sinuses or allergies. Most of the middle ear infections are associated with fluid buildup in the middle ear. If the opening of Eustachian tube gets blocked, the air pressure on both sides of the eardrum cannot be equalized, which in turn, may cause the eardrum to retract. Presence of tumors or masses in the nasopharynx can also block Eustachian tube, which in turn may cause the eardrum to be pulled inwards. If the eardrum is pulled inwards, the sounds may appear to be louder. Increased hearing sensitivity and ear pain are the most common retracted ear symptoms. The sensation is similar to what one may experience due to pressure changes during air travel.
How to Treat Tympanic Membrane Retraction
Blockage of Eustachian tube is one of the most common refracted eardrum causes, so those who often suffer from infections that cause blockage of Eustachian tube are more susceptible to this condition. This condition must be treated at the earliest. If left untreated, retraction pockets can form in the middle ear. Debris may get accumulated in these pockets and these could also become infected. This may cause a chronic infection.
A serious condition that could result is the development of a cholesteatoma. This is a condition wherein a mass of skin may get trapped in the middle ear. This tumor-like growth may destroy the eardrum. An enlarged cyst could even erode the bones located in the middle ear. Hearing loss could also result from erosion of the bones. One must, therefore, get a checkup done so as to prevent such complications from arising. Treating the condition that’s causing a blockage of Eustachian tube would help in alleviating the symptoms.
If the blockage of this tube occurs as a result of upper-respiratory infections, sinusitis or allergies, treatment options such as drug therapy along with certain home remedies will prove beneficial. Painkillers, antibiotic ear drops, nasal decongestants along with application of warm compresses may help. Opening and closing the mouth or yawning may help in increasing the pressure. One can also try ‘Valsalva Maneuver’ in order to equalize pressure.
All you need to do is hold your breath, and tighten the body, as though straining for a bowel movement. In severe cases, a tympanostomy ear tube might be placed for draining fluid from the middle ear. If infected retraction pockets are detected by an otolaryngologist and one is diagnosed with cholesteatoma, surgical procedures called tympanoplasty, ossiculoplasty or mastoidectomy may be needed for the removal of the cholesteatoma.
Though retraction of the tympanic membrane may not always be a cause of serious concern, surgery may be needed if one is diagnosed with cholesteatoma. Since blockage of Eustachian tube is one of the most common causes of tympanic retractions and middle ear infections, the conditions that lead to the blockage of Eustachian tube must be treated at the earliest.