Bullous myringitis is a painful condition characterized by middle ear inflammation and oozing blisters on the eardrum. It typically arises as a secondary complication of a bacterial or viral infection. A person who has bullous myringitis is likely to experience radiating pain and some degree of hearing loss over the course of about two days as a blister develops. It is important to seek medical care at an emergency room or otolaryngologist's office at the first signs of ear pain to receive the appropriate treatment.
The eardrum, or tympanic membrane, forms a barrier between the middle and outer ear. It helps to relay sound waves to the brain and prevent foreign particles from irritating the middle ear. When a bacterium or virus pervades the eardrum, it causes an inflammatory response that leads to swelling, itching, and burning sensations in the ear. The most common causes of bullous myringitis are the bacteria Mycoplasma pneumoniae, Streptococcus pneumoniae, and Staphylococcus aureus, though several other bacteria and viruses can potentially cause ear infections.
Bullous myringitis occurs when middle ear inflammation leads to the development of a small pus-filled blister on the tympanic membrane. As a blister grows, an individual is likely to experience constant, sharp pain that disrupts hearing. The sore may ooze yellow or white pus that drains from the ear. Painful sensations and drainage typically persist for the life of a blister, usually one to two days. The infection responsible for bullous myringitis may continue to cause symptoms after the ear pain stops.
A doctor can usually diagnose bullous myringitis by evaluating symptoms and examining the eardrum with a medical instrument called an otoscope. He or she may collect a small sample of pus from the blister to test for specific bacteria. After making a diagnosis, the doctor cleans and drains the ear to clear lingering bacteria and help prevent further irritation.
Treatment for bullous myringitis usually includes a course of anti-inflammatory drugs and antibiotics. A patient may also be prescribed ear drops that help to cleanse the eardrum and soothe painful burning. In most cases, symptoms are quickly relieved with medical treatment. Since ear infections can be contagious, patients are generally instructed to wash their hands frequently and avoid close contact with others until symptoms resolve.
Surgery is rarely needed to treat an ear infection, but a simple operation may be required if the eardrum tears. A surgeon can perform a procedure called a myringoplasty to mend a perforated eardrum and remove dirt, bacteria, and other irritating agents from deep within the ear. The procedure has a high success rate, and most patients start feeling better within about a week.