Welcome to the Audiology Center at New England ENT and Facial Plastic Surgery
A hole or rupture in the eardrum, a thin membrane that separates the ear canal and the middle ear, is called a perforated eardrum. The medical term for eardrum is tympanic membrane. The middle ear is connected to the nose by the Eustachian tube, which equalizes pressure in the middle ear. A perforated eardrum is often accompanied by decreased hearing and sometimes discharge. The perforation may be accompanied by pain if it is caused by an injury or it becomes infected.
A perforated eardrum can occur from trauma, infection, or chronic Eustachian tube disorders.
A perforated eardrum from trauma can occur:
Middle ear infections may cause pain, hearing loss, and spontaneous rupture of the eardrum, resulting in a perforation. This may be associated with discharge from the ear. In medical terms, this is called otitis media with perforation. Symptoms of acute otitis media include a sense of fullness in the ear, diminished hearing, pain, and fever. In patients with chronic Eustachian tube problems the eardrum may become weakened and rupture. On some occasions a small hole may remain in the eardrum after a previously placed pressure-equalizing (PE) tube falls out or is removed by the physician. Most eardrum perforations resulting from trauma or an acute ear infection heal on their own within weeks of rupture, although some may take several months to heal. During the healing process the ear must be protected from water and trauma. Eardrum perforations that do not heal on their own may require surgery.
Usually the size of the perforation determines the level of hearing loss - a larger hole will cause greater hearing loss than a smaller hole. The location of the perforation also affects the degree of hearing loss. If severe trauma (e.g., skull fracture) dislocates the bones in the middle ear (which transmit sound), or injures the inner ear structures, hearing loss may be severe. If the perforated eardrum is caused by a sudden traumatic or explosive event, the loss of hearing can be great and tinnitus (ringing in the ear) may occur. Chronic infection as a result of the perforation can cause persistent or progressive hearing loss.
Before attempting any correction of the perforation, a hearing test should be performed. The benefits of closing a perforation include prevention of water entering the middle ear while showering, bathing, or swimming (which could cause ear infection), improved hearing, and diminished tinnitus. It also may prevent the development of cholesteatoma (skin cyst in the middle ear), which can cause chronic infection and destruction of ear structures. Small perforations may be observed over time to see if it will close spontaneously.
The specialists at New England ENT are trained in the surgical repair of eardrum perforations. There are a variety of surgical techniques to close eardrum perforations. Small perforations can be closed using paper patch or a fat graft from the earlobe, which can be performed in the office or under minimal anesthesia. Larger perforations require grafting tissue such as fascia or cartilage across the perforation to allow healing.
The name of this procedure is called tympanoplasty. Surgery is typically quite successful in repairing the perforation, restoring or improving hearing, and is often done on an outpatient basis.
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