Tympanitis refers to an inflamed tympanic membrane, commonly known as the eardrum. The eardrum is a thin filament of tissue that serves as a distinct separating layer between the outer ear and the middle ear. Tympanitis is instigated by various factors such as bacterial ear infections or traumatic injury to the hearing organs. The eardrum is a fragile, thin and flexible membrane that extends across the ear canal, forming a clear demarcation between the outward segment of the ear and the portion lying in the middle of the cavity. It is involved in ensuring normal hearing functions. Once sound waves from the external surroundings strike the eardrum, vibrations are triggered in the bones of the middle ear following which the auditory impulse traverses via the inner ear to the brain where it is decoded.
However, in cases of tympanitis, when the eardrum becomes inflamed, it obstructs vibrations, invariably hampers hearing and even leads to watery discharge, ear pain and discomfort within the auditory tissues. At times, it prompts bleeding from the ear and constant irritation as well, especially in children. Identifying the exact reason behind eardrum inflammation and addressing the infection, ear tissue damage or head injury helps in repairing the swollen tympanic membrane.
Causes Of Tympanitis:
Various factors induce swelling of the eardrum, including:
- Middle ear infections, such as in acute otitis media (AOM), adhesive otitis/glue ear, which occur predominantly in children
- A perforated eardrum from injury to the ear or head, poking too hard
- Eustachian tube dysfunction from clogging up of the eustachian tubes - cylindrical conduits that work to drain out surplus fluid from the ears
- Bacterial infections like bullous myringitis, which gives rise to fluid-filled blisters in the eardrums
- Swimmer’s ear, a type of bacterial/fungal infection in the outer ear canals occurring mostly in swimmers, due to water remaining in the ears for longer durations, creating a moist environment for microbes to thrive in
The characteristic symptoms of tympanitis comprise:
- Swelling, redness and itching in the ears
- Mild to severe pain in either just one or both ears
- Uneasy heavy feeling in the ear due to excess fluids accumulating behind a swollen eardrum
- Slight bleeding along with a watery discharge from massive swelling and bursting of the eardrum
- Temporary hearing loss
- Constant irritated feelings along with difficulty sleeping and applying pressure on the ears, particularly in children
The physician examines the inner structures of the ear using an instrument known as an otoscope, which houses a light and a magnifying lens and is inserted into the ear canal to clearly visualise the eardrum and tubular passages. At times, a bulb-like apparatus is attached to the otoscope to blow air into the ear canal and observe the movement of the eardrum. If there is any infection, pus-filled distensions, excessive fluid build-up, then the eardrum becomes swollen and does not move well enough and extend to the normal level.
Tympanitis is treated based on the causative factor of eardrum inflammation. If middle ear infections trigger swelling, then the doctor prescribes pain-relievers – oral medications to subside aching in the ears. Most often, middle ear infections prompted by bacteria in children diminish on their own and hence the medical expert does not recommend antibiotics.
Antibiotics are prescribed by the healthcare provider if bullous myringitis instigated by bacterial pathogens is the cause and the blisters are carefully removed to minimise pain and facilitate smooth hearing. Swimmer’s ear is usually treated with prescription antibiotic eardrops or antifungals alongside steroid drugs, to lower eardrum inflammation, depending upon the type of microbe triggering tympanitis. When injury to the ear from prodding with force or a perforated/ruptured eardrum is the reason for tympanitis, the doctor does not advise the patient to take any medications, since these conditions tend to resolve on their own. In situations wherein the patient reports undue pain in the ears, the physician suggests taking pain-relieving medicines to ease discomfort.