The eardrum or tympanic membrane is a thin membrane which separates the outer ear and the middle ear. When the sound waves strike the membrane it vibrates transfers the vibration to the inner structure of the ear which then converts it to nerve signals to the brain. It also serves as protection for the middle ear from the potentially harmful outside factors.
When the eardrum is punctured or perforated there is a small opening through which the bacteria may travel and infect the middle ear.
The eardrum can suffer damage from trauma such as direct injury or barotraumas which is the damage caused by pressure. Some people insert q-tips, pencils, bobby pins or fingers into the ear canal and risk of damaging the eardrum.
Infections of the ear can cause a rupture in the eardrum due to the fluid build up but the reverse scenario is possible as well- a ruptured eardrum can make way for the bacteria that then cause an infection.
Symptoms of ruptured eardrum
When damage to the eardrum occurs, possible symptoms may include pain, discharge from the ear that can be in form of pus, clear or with traces of blood buzzing in the ear, facial weakness, dizziness and partial or complete hear loss. The pain might subside after the drainage of the fluids that have built up in the ear.
Diagnosis and treatment
The doctors are usually able to diagnose a ruptured eardrum when the patient reports the trauma inflicted to the ear and when he or she reports the symptoms. Doctor may examine the ear with an instrument called otoscope and they may also perform an auditory test to determine the level of hear loss.
A ruptured or perforated eardrum usually heals by itself after approximately two months, so the treatment in most cases aims to relieve the pain and discomfort and to prevent a possible infection. Antibiotics may be prescribed as prevention against infections and they may come in form of pills or ear drops.
Painkillers, most of them available over the counter, can be taken for the pain that usually accompanies the rupture of an eardrum.
In some cases when the eardrum does not heal by itself a surgical procedure called tympanoplasty may be required.
As for the at-home treatment, the best thing to do is to keep the ear warm which helps with the pain and discomfort. The air should be clean and dry during the healing and recovery. Cotton balls should be inserted gently into the affected ear while showering and shampooing to keep the water and foam away from the ear.
Prognosis and complications
A ruptured eardrum usually takes up to two months to heal and in most cases the hear loss is temporary. Possible complications of this condition include ear infection, spreading of the infection to the surrounding bones and tissues and permanent hearing loss.