A perforated eardrum is a hole or tear in the eardrum. Symptoms of a perforated eardrum may include ear pain, fluid drainage from the ear, hearing loss, tinnitus, vertigo and nausea or vomiting.
Your ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist will usually identify a perforated eardrum through a visual inspection using an otoscope. Your specialist may conduct additional tests to detect possible hearing loss and other causes of ear symptoms. Tests may include but are not limited to:
- Lab tests to identify bacterial infection
- Turning fork evaluation to detect hearing loss or damage to the vibrating parts of the middle ear
- Tympanometry test to measure the eardrum’s response to changes in air pressure
- Hearing test to measure for frequency loss
Let’s take a look at a couple of common causes of eardrum perforation and how you can protect against them.
Acoustic trauma occurs when your ears are subjected to a loud sound, such as a blast or continuous construction noise. Hearing loss is the most common result of loud noise exposure, but a perforated eardrum can sometimes occur.
To protect against eardrum perforation from acoustic trauma, always wear ear protection when exposed to dangerous noise levels. The Centers for Disease Control defines the threshold for damage as noise above 70 decibels over a prolonged period of time or above 120 decibels immediately.
Foreign Objects in the Ear
Placing anything larger than your elbow in your ear is not recommended. One of the most common items people place inside their ears is a cotton swab. A questionnaire given to patients at three primary care centers in England with 239/300 respondents found that 68% of respondents used cotton swabs to clean their ears.
Cotton swabs are more likely to push wax further into the ear and cause eardrum perforation than they are to remove wax effectively. If you feel your ears are plugged up due to an overproduction of wax, contact your ENT specialist for a professional assessment and cleaning to prevent damage.
Airplane ear, or ear barotrauma, is pressure or stress exerted on the eardrum when there is an imbalance of pressure between the middle ear and the air around you. Imbalance usually occurs when there is a dramatic change in air pressure; the Eustachian tube cannot react fast enough to equalize pressure. Dramatic changes in air pressure are common during fast ascents or descents, such as during flights or drives up Mount Blue Sky.
While most cases of airplane ear are mild and resolve themselves shortly after a flight, severe cases can result in a perforated eardrum or hearing loss. To prevent airplane ear from becoming severe, try chewing gum during takeoff and landing to enact the muscles that open the Eustachian tube.
For more information about protecting your ear health, contact Advantage ENT & Audiology today to make an appointment with one of our specialists.