The eardrum or tympanic membrane is a dense piece of tissue positioned in between the exterior and middle ear canal. The eardrum is responsible for generating sound waves via vibrations. The eardrum works by equalizing the pressure between the exterior and inner ear canal. In case the eardrum is perforated or torn, it is called an eardrum rupture.
Individuals who love to engage in scuba diving might be at risk for a perforated eardrum. If a rupture occurs, it is best to consult a doctor and ask about care and preventive measures if planning to engage in the activity in the future again.
What causes a perforated eardrum?
If there are rapid changes in the pressure such as diving underwater or the quick ascent and descent during air travel, it can cause damage to the eardrum. The barometric changes in the pressure can cause a perforated eardrum. It is important to note that the equal atmospheric pressure on the interior and exterior of the eardrum enables the tissue of the eardrum to stay in place. If there is a rapid increase in the pressure against the eardrum due to water pressure during scuba diving, the pressure is not allowed to equalize, thus resulting to damage.
Close look on water pressure
The water pressure is considered more intense than the air pressure. Take note that diving up the 33 feet below the water surface is equal to rising 80,000 feet in the air during air travel or climbing up a mountain.
Symptoms of a perforated eardrum
In most cases, the individual will experience sharp pain if the eardrum is ruptured or torn while scuba diving. The individual might end up with a ringing sensation in the ear with a minimal hearing loss that is similar to the feeling that the ear canal is clogged with an earplug or cotton.
The semicircular canals situated in the ear are responsible for controlling the sense of balance. When an individual ends up with a perforated eardrum, it can affect this equilibrium, resulting to vertigo or dizziness.
Management of a perforated eardrum
In most cases, a ruptured or perforated eardrum can heal on its own within a few weeks. The intermittent ear pain and hearing loss are quite common. As for cases that involve tears that do not seem to heal on their own, the doctor might recommend an eardrum patch. In some cases, surgical intervention is needed.
Once the eardrum is torn, the individual is susceptible to repeated injuries affecting the eardrum. A doctor should be asked regarding scuba diving if the individual ends up with a ruptured eardrum or there is chronic pain after a rupture.
How to protect the eardrum
A perforated eardrum can be prevented while scuba diving if the individual slowly descends and allows the pressure in the ear to properly equalize. Closing the mouth and blowing or plugging the nose can help release pressure that accumulates in the Eustachian tube that connects the middle ear canal to the sinuses. This technique is called the Valsalva maneuver.