Learn more about perilymph fistulas and how they can be treated.
The structures of the inner and middle ear are delicate and cannot tolerate exposure to risks like excessive pressure. When they encounter unfavorable conditions, they often succumb to damages and infections that warrant significant medical attention. However, some activities like diving and swimming invite these risks factors, putting people who engage in these sports at a higher risk of inner ear injuries like perilymph fistulas.
Perilymph fistula refers to a tearing of the tympanic membrane that separates the oval and round windows near the temporal bone. The temporal bone itself is located in the middle and inner ear. When the membrane separating the two windows tears, it allows fluid to travel to the inner ear and ear drum.
Divers in particular are at risk of this condition. As they dive, the water rushes into their ears, putting pressure on the membrane. The membrane may then tear and cause a fistula to form between the oval and round windows of the inner and middle ear.
However, perilymph fistulas also may be caused by the pressure change in an airplane cabin or by heavy lifting. It is imperative that you know what symptoms to be on the lookout for if you participate in diving, travel frequently by airplane, or do heavy lifting on your job.
Perilymph Fistula Symptoms
The symptoms of perilymph fistula are marked and disruptive to your daily routine. Some of the primary symptoms of which you should be aware include:
Tinnitus or ringing in the ears
Intolerance to motion
Moderate to severe ear pain
You also may feel nauseated or you may vomit because of the tear in your tympanic membrane.
It is important that you seek medical help if you experience any of these symptoms after engaging in activities that put you at risk for perilymph fistula. Your doctor will perform a thorough examination of your ear. He or she may also order a CT scan to rule out other factors like calcium growths in your ear, infection, or tumors.
Treatment of Perilymph Fistula
Minor cases of perilymph fistula typically resolve themselves without much, if any, medical intervention. After you are diagnosed with this tympanic membrane tear, your doctor may recommend that you simply return home to rest until you feel better. You may also be encouraged to lie flat with your head slightly elevated to prevent more fluid from traveling into your inner ear.
However, severe cases of perilymph fistula may need to be treated with more extensive medical means, including surgery. A case of perilymph fistula is diagnosed as severe if it does not respond to home remedies like rest or medicinal treatment like antibiotics.
If you suffer from a severe case of this injury, you may need to undergo surgical repair of the tympanic membrane, a procedure called a tympanoplasty. During a tympanoplasty, your ear drum will be reconstructed from material like cartilage from your own body.
The recovery time for this type of ear surgery is typically two weeks. During that time, you will not be permitted to resume your normal activities or participate in sports like diving or swimming. In fact, you will need to be cleared medically by your doctor before you can resume them. If you return prematurely after ear surgery, you could risk further harm to your inner and middle ear.
While tympanic membrane repair surgery is not invasive like other types of surgery, it can take you away from your favorite activities. You also need to take time off from work or school to recover.
When you would rather avoid this injury altogether, you should learn what preventative steps you can take to protect your inner and middle ear. You could wear ear plugs, for example, to keep the water out of your ear. You also may chew gum to keep your ears unclogged while traveling by air. Finally, you should practice safe lifting practices like lifting with your knees and wearing an abdomen brace to help you avoid strain and pressure as you work.
These preventative measures, combined with arming yourself with information about perilymph fistula, may help you avoid this inconvenient and painful inner ear condition.