Anatomy and function of the eardrum

Tympanic membrane (eardrum): anatomy, function, problems and surgical treatment

In the anatomy of the ear, the eardrum is one among the better-known components, certainly the best known part of our acoustic system. However, like the rest of this complex system, it is an extremely precise component that must be properly cared for. It is essential to pay attention to specific diseases that can affect it and give them an appropriate response at all times.

Where is the eardrum located?

The eardrum is located in the middle ear, specifically the boundary between the external auditory canal and the middle ear itself. It consists of a cavity and a membrane. Intimately related to the eardrum is a set of three tiny bones called the hammer, anvil and stirrup, which are popularly known as 'ossicles', and which assist the eardrum in its amplifying function. The tympanic membrane is elastic and conical in shape.

What is the function of the eardrum?

The tympanum is the part of the auditory system that is responsible for amplifying sounds captured by the pinna and transporting them to the inner ear, which means that its function is to transfer sounds entering through the ear to the part of the auditory system where these sounds are translated into impulses and conducted to the auditory nerve for interpretation.

The tympanic membrane and the set of 'ossicles' are responsible for this translation into impulses.

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What are the common conditions that affect the eardrum?

The eardrum is a delicate organ by the very nature of its composition. As a thin membrane exposed to vibrations and impulses, it is vulnerable both to environmental conditions and to foreign bodies that we sometimes introduce into our ears, as well as to secretions themselves, which can increase the pressure on this membrane.

Perforated eardrum, sometimes called perforated ear, is one of the most common conditions along with inflammation (inflamed eardrum) and can go as far as rupturing the eardrum itself, due to any of the conditions mentioned or particularly loud sounds that can also deteriorate its thin membrane.

The surgery: tympanoplasty

Eardrum-related conditions can be resolved in many cases with pharmacological treatments that attack inflammation or related infections such as otorrhea, otitis or myringitis. However, in cases of more serious damage, the replacement of this membrane may require a surgical procedure known as tympanoplasty, which, in a nutshell, consists of reconstructing the membrane or the set of 'ossicles' after a perforation that could not be resolved with pharmacological treatment or as a result of other conditions such as cholesteatoma.

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