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.
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.