Traumatic Perforation of the Tympanic Membrane
Traumatic causes of tympanic membrane perforation include
Insertion of objects into the ear canal purposely (eg, cotton swabs) or accidentally
Concussion caused by an explosion or open-handed slap across the ear
Head trauma (with or without basilar fracture)
Sudden negative pressure (eg, strong suction applied to the ear canal)
Barotrauma (eg, during air travel or scuba diving)
Iatrogenic perforation from instrumentation during irrigation or foreign body or cerumen removal
Penetrating injuries of the tympanic membrane may result in dislocations of the ossicular chain, fracture of the stapedial footplate, displacement of fragments of the ossicles, bleeding, a perilymph fistula from the oval or round window resulting in leakage of perilymph into the middle ear space, or facial nerve injury.
Traumatic perforation of the tympanic membrane causes sudden severe pain sometimes followed by bleeding from the ear, hearing loss, and tinnitus. Hearing loss is more severe if the ossicular chain is disrupted or the inner ear is injured. Vertigo suggests injury to the inner ear. Purulent otorrhea may begin in 24 to 48 hours, particularly if water enters the middle ear.
Perforation is generally evident on otoscopy. Any blood obscuring the ear canal is carefully suctioned. Irrigation and pneumatic otoscopy are avoided. Extremely small perforations may require otomicroscopy or middle ear impedance studies for definitive diagnosis. If possible, audiometric studies are done before and after treatment to avoid confusion between trauma-induced and treatment-induced hearing loss.
Often, no specific treatment is needed. The ear should be kept dry; routine antibiotic ear drops are unnecessary. However, prophylaxis with oral broad-spectrum antibiotics or antibiotic ear drops is necessary if contaminants may have entered through the perforation as occurs in dirty injuries.
If the ear becomes infected, amoxicillin 500 mg orally every 8 hours is given for 7 days.
Although most perforations close spontaneously, surgery is indicated for a perforation persisting > 2 months. Persistent conductive hearing loss suggests disruption of the ossicular chain, necessitating surgical exploration and repair.
Many perforations are small and heal spontaneously.
The ear should be kept dry during healing; topical or systemic antibiotics are unnecessary unless there is significant contamination or if infection develops.
Surgery is done to repair damage to the ossicles and for perforations persisting > 2 months.
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