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December 20, 2012 3:47 PM   Subscribe

I think I might have ruptured my eardrum. Did I? Is this an urgent care situation?

YANMD. I have an appointment with my doctor, but the soonest they could get me in was Sunday at 4:30 pm. Gory details:

I've been sick since the day after Thanksgiving. Hacking cough, nasal congestion, my asthma acting up, etc.. I went to my GP on the 1st, they prescribed me antibiotics and some steroids (plus a shot of steroids in the arm to get me started). I finished all the antibiotics on the 6th, and at that point I felt significantly better, and continued to feel better for about 5 days. Then I started to get sick again. Same symptoms as before, only more head congestion this time and my cough is not as "dry". Lots of mucus production. Today, I blew my nose (kind of hard I admit), heard a weird loud pop in my left ear, and then couldn't hear anything out of that ear. There was no pain, just a feeling of their being a lot of pressure in my ear, almost like I have water in it. Also a kind of vibration that I think is my own heartbeat. It's been about six hours since this happened and *some* of my hearing has returned, but not all and my ear still feels like I have cotton jammed inside it. No fluids have dripped out of my ear, at least that I know of. I did lay down for a couple of hours after this happened so I guess some could have without me knowing.

So is it possible I have ruptured my eardrum? If so, is this a situation where I can wait it out until Sunday (my preferred option) or am I risking permanent hearing loss or anything serious by not going to urgent care or the ER? I googled ruptured eardrum but while I got a list of symptoms, most everywhere said that not everyone who ruptures their eardrum experiences all the symptoms and some don't experience any at all. Also I got no information on whether I should try to see a physician immediately or if it's something that can wait a couple or three days. But the fact that most sites said that ruptured eardrums often heal without intervention makes me think this is not an emergency/urgent situation. Thoughts?
posted by katyggls to Health & Fitness (16 answers total)
I am not a doctor. (But your doctor should have told you if this was an emergency to go to the ER.)

I had a similar thing happen, and I asked a doctor friend what to do with the same symptoms as you have: she said to wait because they couldn't do anything. I did, and a few months (yes) later my ear finally felt right and I could hear norrmally. My uncle had the same thing happen. He saw a doctor, who told him to wait because they couldn't do anything. A few months later, his ear was healed and he could hear normally. A coworker had the same thing happen, you can imagine where that story goes.

I'm not recommending you cancel your appointment, but from my experience you aren't going to have anything change if you wait three days to see a doctor. That said, if things get worse you should ask your doctor if this is an emergency or go to the ER.
posted by jeather at 3:55 PM on December 20, 2012

Response by poster: Ah, I should have made clear that the Sunday appointment was a pre-existing appt. I had for my other symptoms, so I haven't actually spoken to my doctor's office about this eardrum thing.
posted by katyggls at 4:02 PM on December 20, 2012

No, it is not urgent. I ruptured mine on the first leg of 14 hours of flying, and didn't get to the doctor for another three days. Her assessment was to keep an eye on it and go to an ENT if anything happened that bothered me. They won't do anything at this point unless you're running a fever or having pain/discharge.

It may only be horribly congested if you didn't have any pain. I know mine was exacerbated by airplane pressure, but I had about 4 minutes of excruciating pain right up until the discernible pop, which came with a complete cessation of pain and the embarrassment of bleeding out my ear when I had nothing but one used cocktail napkin and most of the flight attendants did not speak English. It was less than one napkin's worth of blood, in the end, but it was more than none.

I lucked out, as a scab plugged the hole for a couple of weeks, so I didn't really lose any hearing or suffer any symptoms. That scab eventually felt like having a pea shoved in my ear and my boss told me I'd have to go to the ENT and have it removed with their high-tech ear-rooter, but I performed a highly ill-advised procedure to deal with it myself.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:04 PM on December 20, 2012

Best answer: I have never ruptured an eardrum, but from what I understand it is SUPER PAINFUL. I guess it depends on how bad the rupture is (small hole or big blowout?). You could have blown some gunk up into your Eustachian tube or moved some fluid around in your ear so that it's putting pressure on your eardrum.

If you aren't in excruciating pain I'd say wait for the doctor's appointment unless something changes. Meanwhile, my doctor has always given me Mucinex to help thin and drain the gunk from my ears, and Sudafed (or similar decongestant) helps open up the tube to assist in drainage. Also, if it feels like your ear is full, putting a warm compress right behind your ear on the fleshy part right behind your jawbone has helped me before. There's been times where after 10 or 20 minutes of warmth something in there pops and gunk drains out and down my throat. Kinda gross, but man it makes the ear feel so much better!
posted by MultiFaceted at 4:05 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eustachian_tube#Mucus_drainage

I'll bet you a dime you are just really stuffed up.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 4:06 PM on December 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

I would call a 24 hour nurse hotline - your insurance company probably has one, and a local hospital may as well. The nurse can listen to your symptoms and give you a recommendation for what to do (go to ER vs. go to urgent care vs. wait it out).

Web MD says that typically no treatment is needed for a ruptured eardrum, but you do not know that is what happened. I would really suggest talking to a nurse.
posted by insectosaurus at 4:06 PM on December 20, 2012

I was convinced that I had ruptured my eardrum a few weeks ago, but it was just horribly clogged. A nurse at urgent care fixed it in like 2 minutes.
posted by miyabo at 4:07 PM on December 20, 2012

Best answer: You have probably blown mucus behind your eardrum, effectively muffling your hearing. Your physician might offer to drain it, but it will go away on its own (yes, possibly months). Take it from someone who's been there: Do not fly until it is completely clear. I did and it took most of a year to get my hearing back.
posted by kamikazegopher at 4:08 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

You have not ruptured your eardrum. I have experienced this (too) many times in the past. It will take at least a week (likely several weeks) to clear up.

You have a virus. You have some swelling in your ear canal. The swelling has actually created a vacuum of sorts, and fluid from your body (from the surrounding tissue) has been pulled into the ear canal.

While the swelling will go down, it will take some time for the fluid to be reabsorbed. So you will likely be hard of hearing for a while.

I'm not sure what the solution is, although I have gone to a nose, earth, and throat specialist who have irrigated the ear and done some other stuff to fix the problem.

It's annoying, but it's all part of having a serious cold.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:17 PM on December 20, 2012

This happens to me more often than I'd like. (The worst was going deaf from the blockage on a flight.) I called the doctor absolutely flipping out and they said to just take lots of decongestants, steam my head, and see if it drained on its own. It did.

Do not fly. It could possibly make it worse.
posted by kendrak at 4:30 PM on December 20, 2012

Response by poster: That makes me feel much better. So probably not ruptured, ok to wait for my scheduled appointment. Thanks mefi.

MultiFaceted, I'll definitely be trying your warm compress advice.
posted by katyggls at 4:31 PM on December 20, 2012

I've ruptured an eardrum and it actually wasn't painful. It actually felt like a relief because I no longer had the pressure going on there. No one can definitively say just from you saying what it felt like, that's why doctors bother to look in your ear.

That said, you can't do much about it either way, except that you should avoid getting it wet and avoid putting anything in there.
posted by the young rope-rider at 4:50 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, by the way, the classic warm compress for ears is a boiled onion wrapped in a cloth. The onioniness doesn't do anything, of course, but onions hold heat really well and are the ideal shape for pressing against your flesh. So that's the one and only folk remedy I ever use.
posted by howfar at 6:17 PM on December 20, 2012

One time when my daughter had an ear infection, we took her to the pediatrician and she looked in there and said that my daughter'd ruptured her eardrum (and, she had an ear infection). Hunh. But apparently it's pretty common and heals up.
posted by leahwrenn at 6:48 PM on December 20, 2012

Yeah, I ruptured mine once and it felt just like you are describing. There was nothing the doctors could do for it, and it healed up in a few weeks.
posted by 3491again at 7:01 PM on December 20, 2012

I've ruptured an eardrum and it actually wasn't painful.

Likewise. I had ear infections through a lot of elementary school and many ruptured eardrums. In fact exactly the same thing as described above where it had been crawling-out-of-my-skin painful and then once it ruptured and the pressure eased off it was significantly better. While it's not good news to rupture eardrums and have infections out of control in there [or get stuff in it, or get really bad perforations] eardrums often rupture when you have ear infections. It also sounds, as people have told you, that yours is not ruptured, that you are stuffed up and feeling crummy, so I'd suggest decongestants, compresses and/or hot showers and painkillers if you start having a lot of pain. There are very few ear emergencies short of getting something stuck in there or something cut off that necessitate the ER unless you're in really unreasonable pain. Hang in there, I know it's a total hassle but I think you will be okay.
posted by jessamyn at 7:32 PM on December 20, 2012

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