One man’s eardrum injury is starting an important conversation around ear health.
The injury, which was recently published in a report in The New England Journal of Medicine, tells the story of a 30-year-old man in Switzerland who tore his eardrums. The man had been standing next to a sand-filled mortar during an evening of wedding fireworks.
The mortar accidentally ignited and caused an explosion, the report notes, causing perforations in both eardrums.
The report author, Dr. Patrick Dubach of Solothurn Hospital in Switzerland, who treated the patient, says these types of blast injuries are rare and most physicians are not familiar with them.
“The aim of the article was to provide a typical picture of various stages of eardrum perforations for timely diagnosis by the physician,” he tells Global News.
“It is important to check for signs of fresh tympanic membrane perforations because in a stressful emergency room situation, there are often multiple other injuries of higher priority.”
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Dubach adds the patient noticed some hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing of the ears).
Dubach says blast injuries were often restricted to one person (i.e. someone standing close to an explosion or a driver in an airbag-related accident, for example), but his team expects to see more eardrum injuries following mass casualties of war and terrorism.
“In Switzerland, we see only sporadic cases after accidents with fireworks, traffic accidents, or explosions in workplaces, which happens most often in confined rooms where the pressure wave cannot escape,” he says.
Other ways to damage the ear
The eardrum, according to the Canadian Society of Otolaryngology, is a small membrane that reacts very quickly to all types of sound. It is located deep in the ear canal.
A recent study published in The Journal of Pediatrics found between 1990 and 2010, an estimated 263,000 children under the age of 18 were treated in U.S. hospitals for cotton swab-related injuries in the ear canal. That’s about 34 injuries a day.
But health experts say adults should be just as cautious and avoid sticking cotton swabs into ear canals — our ears usually self-clean.
Reducing the risk of hearing loss
According to Health Canada, while noise-induced hearing loss was often linked to excessive noise in the workplace in the past, today most young people experience this due to “overexposure to loud noise from a variety of everyday activities” like concerts or listening to music with earbuds.
To lessen the risk of hearing loss, Health Canada suggests limiting the amount of noisy activities, avoiding listening to loud music in the car, and wearing protective gear like earplugs or earmuffs when needed.
Scheduling quiet time is also important, the department notes, as well as avoiding toys that make loud sounds for children.
Common signs of hearing loss include trouble following conversation when there’s background noise and tinnitus.