Medical questions & health advice by board certified doctors
"What causes ruptured eardrums?"
I've been struggling with hearing difficulties recently, so I went to an ear ? nose ? throat doctor. She took one look at me and informed me that I'd ruptured one of my eardrums. She was pretty vague about how this could happened, but I want to know for sure! I don't want it to happen again.
Questions about the ears or hearing are best addressed by an ear, nose, and throat specialist. The eardrum is a thin membrane separating the outer ear from the small bones of the inner ear that help transmit vibrations and sounds to the brain. The eardrum can be ruptured by several different things which typically fall into one of three categories.
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First, exposure to acoustic trauma--very loud noises--can cause a ruptured eardrum. This is most often seen in people who have been exposed to gunshots, loud music, fireworks, or other types of explosions. Second, the eardrum can be ruptured by barotrauma or changes in pressure that cause the delicate membrane to rupture. Dramatic changes in altitude such as flying in an unpressurized aircraft, scuba diving, or driving in the mountains can cause a ruptured eardrum in susceptible individuals. Upper respiratory infections that block the normal drainage passage from the ear can also cause pressure changes leading to a rupture. It is also possible for ear infections themselves to cause pressure changes inside the ear that subsequently rupture the eardrum. Finally, foreign bodies can also cause a ruptured eardrum. In children this can be result of sticking many different objects into the ears, but in adults the most likely offender is the use of a q-tip to clean the ears.
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