Your eardrum (tympanic membrane) has two primary roles:
- Hearing. When sound waves strike it, your eardrum vibrates — the first step by which structures of your middle and inner ears translate sound waves into nerve impulses.
- Protection. Your eardrum also acts as a barrier, protecting your middle ear from water, bacteria and other foreign substances.
If your eardrum ruptures, complications can occur while your eardrum is healing or if it fails to heal. Possible complications include:
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- Hearing loss. Usually, hearing loss is temporary, lasting only until the tear or hole in your eardrum has healed. The size and location of the tear can affect the degree of hearing loss.
- Middle ear infection (otitis media). A perforated eardrum can allow bacteria to enter your ear. If a perforated eardrum doesn't heal or isn't repaired, you may be vulnerable to ongoing (chronic) infections that can cause permanent hearing loss.
Middle ear cyst (cholesteatoma). A cholesteatoma is a cyst in your middle ear composed of skin cells and other debris.
Ear canal debris normally travels to your outer ear with the help of ear-protecting earwax. If your eardrum is ruptured, the skin debris can pass into your middle ear and form a cyst.
A cholesteatoma provides a friendly environment for bacteria and contains proteins that can damage bones of your middle ear.
- Perforated eardrum. American Academy of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery. http://www.entnet.org/HealthInformation/perforatedEardrum.cfm. Accessed Oct. 7, 2013.
- Evans AK, et al. Evaluation and management of middle ear trauma. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Oct. 7, 2013.
- Kliegman RM, et al. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2011. http://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Oct. 7, 2013.
- Vernick DM. Ear barotrauma. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Oct. 3, 2013.
- Have Wise Ears for life. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/hearing/pages/wiseears.aspx. Accessed Oct. 3, 2013.
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