Pain in the ear drum, or the tympanic membrane, may indicate a variety of medical issues. It can mean a ruptured eardrum, a middle ear infection, or temporary damage from acoustic trauma (sound) or barotrauma (pressure-induced damage). Depending on the patient's symptoms and recent exposure to loud noises and/or deep water, a doctor can determine the cause of the pain.
If the ear drum is ruptured, or perforated, the cause is normally infection or recent trauma. Exposure to loud noises such as explosions or loud machinery can cause significant damage to the ear drum as can an object, such as a cotton-tipped swab, pushed too far into the ear canal. Also, any foreign liquids, like acid, that enter the ear canal can cause a rupture. Middle-ear infections, another potential cause, are more common in children under the age of three than in older people and may result from poor eardrum structure, exposure to germs, allergies, or lifestyle habits. Overexposure to loud sounds or improper protection[preparation] and/or precautions when diving in deep water may cause temporary acoustic trauma or barotrauma damage.
Symptoms of a ruptured ear drum include earache or discomfort, a buzzing noise and pus or blood drainage from the ear. Sometimes hearing loss in the affected ear may occur. Medical professionals determine a middle ear infection from symptoms of sniffles and clear, runny fluid coming from the nose, low-grade fever, soar throat, restlessness and a cough. Patients suffering from acoustic trauma or barotrauma may hear a constant high-pitched ringing sound, have slight hearing loss, or feel intense pressure in their ears.
To determine the cause and recommend treatment, a doctor uses an otoscope to look into the patient's ear. If the eardrum has ruptured, an opening in the membrane is visible. An audiology test can measure the severity of hearing loss.
Before administering any treatment, a medical professional normally recommends a hearing test to determine the extent of the damage. For a small perforation, an otolaryngologist may observe the eardrum over time to see if it heals naturally. In certain cases, the doctor attempts to repair the eardrum by using a microscope and placing a thin paper patch on the ruptured portion and dabbing it with growth stimulating chemicals. If this method does not close the perforation, then surgery may be the next step. The most common procedure used, known as tympanoplasty, involves grafting skin tissue across the perforation to allow healing.
There are many ways to prevent eardrum pain including avoiding extended exposure to loud noises (or wearing ear plugs), following proper immersion procedures or wearing ear protection when swimming or diving in deep water, refraining from inserting objects too far into the ear canal, and general healthy living and eating habits.