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What Is the Tympanic Membrane?

The eardrum, also called the tympanic membrane, is a thin tissue that protects the middle ear and is part of the hearing process.
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  • Written By: K T Solis
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 19 September 2014
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The tympanic membrane, more commonly known as the eardrum, is a membrane that divides the inner and outer ear. When a person hears a noise, sound waves travel toward the tympanic membrane. This membrane then begins to vibrate, ultimately sending the sound waves to miniscule bones located within the middle ear. After passing through the middle ear, the sound waves reach the inner ear.

At times, the eardrum can be damaged, suffering a perforation. This can occur if the ear is struck, a foreign object is placed deep inside the ear canal, or if the patient suffers from an infection. The eardrum can also be damaged from loud noises such as explosions. When a tympanic membrane is damaged, the patient often experiences hearing loss. Discharge from the ear may also occur.

A perforated tympanic membrane can cause a person to suffer from recurring ear infections. This is because fungus and bacteria can enter the middle ear by means of the ear canal. The majority of perforated tympanic membranes heal by themselves within a few weeks. Some perforated eardrums may require several months before healing. In severe cases, only partial hearing may return to the person whose eardrum has been damaged.

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If the eardrum does not heal, surgery may be required. The surgeon will perform one of two operations to repair the tympanic membrane. One procedure is called paper patch myringoplasty, while the other type of surgery is called a tympanoplasty. Myringoplasty is performed in the doctor's office, but the tympanoplasty is performed in a hospital. Tympanoplasties are reserved for patients who have more extensive damage to the tympanic membrane or who suffer from recurring ear infections.

A paper patch myringoplasty is a procedure where the doctor places a special chemical on the eardrum's edges in hopes of stimulating membrane growth. Next, the doctor attaches a thin piece of paper over the tympanic membrane. This may help to close the hole within the eardrum. Tympanoplasty is a procedure that uses tissue from other parts of the body to close the hole within the eardrum. This procedure permanently repairs the perforation, helping to restore a patient's hearing.

The tympanic membrane is a sensitive part of the ear that is instrumental in allowing people to hear. When it suffers an injury because of trauma or excessive noise, it can cause hearing problems. If an eardrum perforation does not heal properly, patients can experience hearing loss, frequent ear infections, and deterioration of structures within the ear.

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Perdido
Post 4

I got an ear infection that reached all the way to my tympanic membrane. It was called swimmer’s ear, and it was very painful.

The entire outer ear canal swelled up, blocking sound from traveling easily to my tympanic membrane. The canal was very inflamed, and it hurt constantly.

I had recently been swimming several times, and I did not apply the ear-drying drops that I should have been using. So, I developed this infection.

I had to take oral antibiotics, and I also had to use antibiotic eardrops. The drops themselves caused pain in my ear, because anything that touched the inflamed area made it hurt.

I was so glad when the swelling started to subside and I could hear again out of that ear. My friends were tired of me asking them to repeat themselves!

cloudel
Post 3

If you have ever experienced ringing in your ears after a loud concert, then you have had temporary tympanic membrane damage. I have experienced this, and I noticed it most when I entered a quiet room after leaving the loud area. The ringing was deafening!

It faded somewhat overnight, but I still had a little ringing left over the next morning. I found it hard to hear my softspoken mother that day.

This kind of tympanic damage heals on its own, unless you expose yourself to it constantly. My uncle does sound management for a rock band, so he is exposed to it all the time, and he is partially deaf. His damage cannot be reversed.

wavy58
Post 2

@StarJo - I know it is tempting, but it is so dangerous to stick things in your ears. My dad tried to scratch his with a bobby pin, and he wound up needing a myringoplasty.

He had to be put to sleep for the operation. After he put the regrowth chemical on my dad’s tympanic membrane, the doctor used fat from his earlobe to patch the hole my dad had accidentally made.

It was an outpatient procedure, so he got to go home as soon as he woke up and they saw that he was alright. He will never shove another bobby pin down his ear, though.

StarJo
Post 1

I often have incredibly itchy ears. It feels so good to stick a cotton swab down in the canal and scratch. I carry them around in my purse for extreme itches.

Sometimes, though, I can go too far with them. If an itch is really hard to reach, I have been known to shove the swab down so far that it causes intense pain. This is because I have perforated my tympanic membrane.

So far, any time I have done this, it has healed on its own. The pain lasts for about an hour, and I would compare it to a toothache, because it throbs and seems to reach all the way through my head.

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