Ruptured Eardrum: Ruptured Tympanic Membrane

author : AMSSM
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What are the activity restrictions when recovering from a ruptured eardrum?

Member Question

"Hey everyone, due to a recent cold I've ruptured one of my eardrums pretty badly. I know swimming is off limits untill it is healed, but what about sweat from running or cycling? All I know is that I'm supposed to keep it dry and I am a heavy sweater. Does anyone have any experience with this? I just moved so I have to wait till the end of the week for my doctors appointment."

Answer from Aaron D. Campbell, M.D., M.H.S.
Member AMSSM  

Typical causes of a ruptured tympanic membrane (eardrum) are ear infections (usually the bacterial type) and trauma. Trauma can be in the form of a sudden pressure change, (barotrauma), from a change in pressure as in flying or scuba diving. It can also occur from loud noises or blasts (acoustic trauma), from an explosion, or gunshot.

Other types of injuries that can cause a ruptured tympanic membrane could be foreign objects in the ear, or a severe head injury, in which the pressure in the skull actually causes the rupture.

In the case of swimmers, this is often from an infection from the water source, and in other water sports such as surfing, board diving or water skiing, it could be caused by acoustic trauma from landing hard and firmly onto a water surface or having a wave crash into your ear. Scuba divers often suffer from barotrauma due to pressure changes from either descending or ascending too quickly from a given depth of water.
Symptoms commonly are a sudden hearing loss, with a sensation of dizziness or vertigo, pain, drainage of fluid such as infection material (pus), referred to as purulent drainage, or even blood.

If you think you really did rupture your tympanic membrane, and are waiting to see the doctor, it is important to protect the ruptured tympanic membrane from further insult. This means no swimming or getting water in the ear, protect it from loud noises, and avoid packing anything in the ear, or using eardrops of any sort.


Keep out bacteria

It is ok to use a moldable, silicone earplug or cotton ball coated with petroleum jelly to gently place in the outer aspect of the canal. This can help keep water and other bacteria out of the canal, without further damaging the canal or inner ear structures as could occur if you were to pack the ear.

Pain control can be achieved with over the counter pain medications, rest and fluids. Your physician will evaluate the issue and may place you on ear specific antibiotic drops depending on the presence of infection. The rupture will eventually heal, but could take up to 6 weeks.

Your hearing will return, likely much sooner than 6 weeks. Because it can take that long to heal and there is a possibility of not healing, it is important you have a follow up appointment several weeks later to evaluate for healing. If poor or little healing is occurring there are surgeries that can patch the tympanic membrane to allow adequate closure.

Most people do just fine, and heal without long-term complications.




 Aaron D Campbell MD, MHS practices at Family & Sports Medicine at the University of Utah Healthcare

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date: October 29, 2015

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The American Medical Society for Sports Medicine (AMSSM) was formed in 1991 to fill a void that has existed in sports medicine from its earliest beginnings. The founders most recognized and expert sports medicine specialists realized that while there are several physician organizations which support sports medicine, there has not been a forum specific for primary care non-surgical sports medicine physicians.

FIND A SPORTS MEDICINE DOCTOR

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