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Middle Ear, Tympanic Membrane, Perforations Workup

  • Author: Matthew L Howard, MD, JD; Chief Editor: Arlen D Meyers, MD, MBA  more...
Updated: May 19, 2016

Imaging Studies

Radiography and MRI are of no value unless the clinical picture suggests ossicular destruction and/or cholesteatoma. Asymptomatic perforations, especially if hearing is near normal, require no imaging studies.


Other Tests

See the list below:

  • Most tympanic membrane perforations (TMPs) are diagnosed using routine otoscopy.
  • Small perforations may require otomicroscopy for identification.
  • Some hearing screening programs include middle ear impedance testing.
  • Screening tympanometry may reveal abnormalities consistent with perforation. Confirmation still requires examination.
  • Always perform audiometry upon initial TMP diagnosis and again before any repair attempt, whether in the office or in the operating room.
    • Preoperative and postoperative audiography should always be performed. A major conductive loss not only alerts the surgeon to the possible existence of ossicular lesions, but documentation of a preexisting sensorineural hearing loss may protect the surgeon from later allegations that the surgery caused the hearing loss.
    • Audiometry often reveals normal hearing. The presence of mild conductive hearing loss is consistent with perforation, and a conductive component of at least 30 dB indicates possible ossicular discontinuity or a pathologic condition.

Diagnostic Procedures

In rare cases, otomicroscopy and impedance studies still leave the tympanic membrane perforation (TMP) diagnosis questionable. To provide evidence of perforation (in the form of a stream of bubbles), fill the ear canal with sufficient distilled water or sterile saline to cover the tympanic membrane and have the patient perform the Valsalva maneuver. A negative test result is suggestive but not definitive. A positive test result is caused only by tympanic membrane perforation (TMP).


Histologic Findings

In chronic tympanic membrane perforation (TMP), squamous epithelium is found adjacent to middle ear mucosa and creates a perforation edge with no raw surface. Such healing of the perforation edge is undoubtedly a contributing factor to perforation persistence.

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Matthew L Howard, MD, JD Head and Neck Surgery (Retired), Kaiser Permanente Medical Center, Santa Rosa, California

Matthew L Howard, MD, JD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, American College of Legal Medicine, American College of Surgeons

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Received salary from Medscape for employment. for: Medscape.

Gerard J Gianoli, MD Clinical Associate Professor, Departments of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery and Pediatrics, Tulane University School of Medicine; President, The Ear and Balance Institute; Board of Directors, Ponchartrain Surgery Center

Gerard J Gianoli, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Otological Society, Society of University Otolaryngologists-Head and Neck Surgeons, Triological Society, American Neurotology Society, American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, American College of Surgeons

Disclosure: Serve(d) as a director, officer, partner, employee, advisor, consultant or trustee for: Vesticon<br/>Received none from Vesticon, Inc. for board membership.

Chief Editor

Arlen D Meyers, MD, MBA Professor of Otolaryngology, Dentistry, and Engineering, University of Colorado School of Medicine

Arlen D Meyers, MD, MBA is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, American Head and Neck Society

Disclosure: Serve(d) as a director, officer, partner, employee, advisor, consultant or trustee for: Cerescan;RxRevu;SymbiaAllergySolutions<br/>Received income in an amount equal to or greater than $250 from: Symbia<br/>Received from Allergy Solutions, Inc for board membership; Received honoraria from RxRevu for chief medical editor; Received salary from Medvoy for founder and president; Received consulting fee from Corvectra for senior medical advisor; Received ownership interest from Cerescan for consulting; Received consulting fee from Essiahealth for advisor; Received consulting fee from Carespan for advisor; Received consulting fee from Covidien for consulting.

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Tympanic membrane (TM) as continuation of the upper wall of external auditory canal (EAC) with angle of incline up to 45 degrees on the border between middle ear and the EAC.
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