The eardrum is one of the most important parts of the ear. Unfortunately, this part of the body is also relatively vulnerable, and children can easily damage and rupture the eardrum. A ruptured eardrum can cause painful symptoms, and if left untreated, this injury could lead to permanent hearing problems. Find out how a ruptured eardrum can happen, and learn what you need to do if your child suffers this type of injury.
How the eardrum work
The eardrum is a thin flap of skin that doctors sometimes refer to as the tympanic membrane. The eardrum is around 10 millimeters wide and sits between the ear canal and the middle ear. This membrane is rigid but very sensitive to changes in air pressure.
Sound waves push the eardrum back and forth. High-pitched sounds move the drum rapidly, while loud sounds move the membrane further. In turn, the vibrations through the eardrum move tiny bones in the ear, which then send messages to the brain. The brain then interprets the messages as sounds.
How ruptured eardrums can occur
It's relatively easy to rupture this sensitive part of the body. A middle ear infection can sometimes cause pus to build up, putting pressure on the eardrum and eventually causing a rupture. Sudden loud noises and changes in air pressure when you fly at high altitude can also cause a ruptured eardrum.
In children, trauma or injury is a relatively common cause of the problem. Kids have a tendency to stick foreign objects in their ears, and ruptured eardrums often occur when kids push things in their ears too hard. A severe blow to the side of the head when playing can also rupture a child's eardrum.
A ruptured eardrum can cause immediate ear pain; although, this symptom may subside quickly. Children with the condition sometimes get clear, pus-filled discharge from the ear. You may also see blood.
Kids often complain of hearing loss or a ringing sound in their ears with a ruptured eardrum. Nausea, vomiting and dizziness can also occur. If the child develops an infection, he or she may also have a high temperature.
Treatment – preventing an infection
A ruptured eardrum will sometimes heal without treatment, but you should always take your child to a doctor or urgent care center to make sure there are no complications. It's important to make sure the child doesn't develop an ear infection, especially if he or she has any underlying medical conditions.
To cut the risk of an infection, a doctor may prescribe antibiotics. You can also give your son or daughter over-the-counter painkillers to help ease any discomfort. Talk to your doctor about the types of painkiller you can use with children. Placing a warm flannel against the affected ear can also often relieve painful symptoms.
Keep the ear dry until the rupture heals. Your son or daughter will need to avoid swimming until the injury goes away, and you'll need to cover your child's ear when he or she has a shower. If the symptoms don't subside, go back to your doctor straight away.
Treatment – surgery
If a rupture is severe and/or won't heal, your child may need surgery to fix the problem. If your child needs tympanoplasty, he or she will need to go to hospital as an outpatient. Using a microscope and tiny surgical instruments, a surgeon will seal the hole with a piece of tissue taken from another part of the ear.
It can take up to two weeks to recover from this type of surgery. Your child will probably need to stay away from school, and you'll need to regularly change the cotton wool padding used to cover the ear. Your child will also need to avoid any physical activities, and you can't allow your son or daughter to fly for at least three months after the procedure.
Your child will also need a further outpatient appointment to remove any dressings and stitches, where the doctor will also make sure the rupture has fully recovered. Some kids experience problems with dizziness, changes in taste and ringing in the ears, but these symptoms should normally subside after a few weeks.
A ruptured eardrum can cause painful symptoms and complications. If you think your child has an injury like this, seek medical attention as soon as possible, or the problem could become more serious. For more information, contact an urgent care such as West Ocean City Injury & Illness Center.