The tympanic membrane, also known as the eardrum, vibrates when sound hits it. It is comprised of three layers of skin and is water-tight. As one would expect, a hole in the eardrum sometimes prevents proper vibration and is usually perceived as a mild hearing loss.
Diagnosis: A tympanic perforation can often be visualized by an otoscopic examination. It is confirmed using a tympanometer.
Treatment: Perforations often heal on their own, but not always. A tympanoplasty, or patching of the perforation, may be performed by an ENT surgeon.
CERUMEN (EAR WAX) IMPACTION
Cerumen, or ear wax, is typically found in the outer third of the ear canal. It moisturizes the ear, repels insects, and traps dust. The hair of the ear canal naturally pushes the wax outward, where it can be easily wiped clean. Excessive hair, a small ear canal, or the use of Q-tips can disrupt this natural cleaning process and the wax can build up. If it completely blocks the ear canal, sound will not be able to get to the eardrum. Hearing loss caused by cerumen often occurs suddenly and is easily treated.
Diagnosis: An examination with an otoscope will reveal cerumen (instead of an eardrum). Tympanometry may be used to confirm that the wax is impacted.
Treatment: Use of a softening agent, such as Debrox, may be required prior to removal. Cerumen can be removed by a curette (small spoon), suction system, or flushing with water.