The Link Between a Perforated Ear Drum and Vertigo

By Charlotte Kirkwood

Ruptured, or perforated, eardrums are painful and, when vertigo sets in, disorienting and baffling. As strange as it seems, the link between the ears and balance--or lack of balance--explains what is happening, and how to treat it.

Perforated Eardrum

The eardrum divides the external and middle ear. The eardrum protects the middle ear, an air filled space that holds the ossicles, three small bones for hearing. Often trauma, such as insertion of an object like a cotton swab, a swimming incident or sudden outward pressure changes will cause a perforation, or rupturing, of the eardrum. This is extremely painful, and can cause vertigo.

Vertigo

When the world feels like it is spinning, or in motion, despite the lack of movement, this is vertigo. Vertigo is disorienting, and can last for a few minutes or several hours. Although vertigo itself is harmless, when caused by a ruptured eardrum, other symptoms, such as headache, loss of hearing and double vision, are present, and treatment from a doctor is necessary.

Eardrums and Balance

The body controls balance and equilibrium through the semicircular canals, organs located in the inner ear. These three looping tubes are at right angles with each other, representing all three planes of dimensional space, and are attached to the sacculus and utriculus, collections of sensory cells. When the head changes position, calcium carbonate crystals shift on their bed of sensory hairs; the cerebellum reads this information and determines the position of the head relative to gravity, giving the body a sense of balance. When a ruptured eardrum occurs, the calcium carbonate crystals move independent of the movements of the head, and the cerebellum becomes confused. The result is vertigo--the brain thinks the head is moving, when no actual movement is present.

Symptoms

People who experience perforated eardrum-based vertigo typically experience lightheadedness or faintness along with the dizziness that comes with vertigo. Vertigo can also cause severe headaches, or migraines. Loss of hearing and tinnitus, ringing in the ears, are also typical symptoms that accompany ruptured eardrums and vertigo.

Treatment

Treating the perforated eardrum will treat the vertigo as well. Most trauma-based perforations will heal by themselves, although surgery is sometimes required. A doctor may prescribe medications to treat vertigo, which can include antihistamines, such as Benadryl or Antivert, nausea suppressants, such as Phenergan or Transderm-Scop, or Valium. These medications ease vertigo until the perforated eardrum heals.

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