Monday Morning Medical: Blown Ear Drum

Monday Morning Medical: Blown Ear Drum

Morning eh…there were lots of questions on the home school front today…I don’t know how common blown ear drums are for everyday folks, but I imagine it happens more often in our line of work than others. (I say our line of work with the full acknowledgement that I have not been overseas in a long time and currently, I have an extremely low chance of getting blown up.)

Our typical SOP for vehicle movement had me located somewhere in the middle of the convoy.  Being the only medic on my team for the majority of my deployments, the team somewhat protected me. That is what they told me anyway. I am sure it had nothing to do with my proclivity to shoot hostages during our train-ups…I was more flexible to move where they needed me when working outer security anyway…

Iraq 2005: We were on a mission to secure an oil refinery and I was placed in the Marine Corps Version of an LMTV near the middle of the convoy. I was assigned to clear several of the low priority buildings with my seventeen commandos. My driver was a young Lance Corporal from Nigeria that was trying to get his U.S. citizenship. He was not much of a talker. The IEDs in that particular area of Iraq left craters big enough to swallow a Humvee. On the final approach, our lead vehicle moved off to the side of the road and we continued traveling on the shoulder. This decision probably saved the life of everyone in my vehicle. After the dust cleared from the explosion, I removed the newly placed AT4 from my lap and got the LCpl to stop saying “What the f@1k” in his broken English. I climbed out the window to make sure everyone was good. My terp gave me the thumbs up, and without stopping, we drove on.

Inside the compound we dismounted and began moving to the several buildings that we were set to clear. The commandos, seventeen of them, came up to me, “Doctor, no…” shaking their head pointing to their ears. I cleared 4-5 buildings, with a group of Iraqi Commandos that could not hear….

Honestly, I could not remember a single class given where we discussed how to treat blown out ear drums. After everything was settled, I ended up giving them all little pieces of gauze to plug their ears, Motrin for the pain and an antibiotic because it was dirty and I wanted to make them feel like I was actually treating them. According to WebMD and the Mayo Clinic:

Signs and Symptoms

  • Sudden sharp pain or a sudden decrease in ear pain (if you have an infection)
  • Drainage from the ear
  • Ear noise or buzzing
  • Hearing loss
  • Facial weakness or dizziness

To confirm the ear drum is ruptured, you need to take a look with an otoscope. But in the absence of otoscope treat as if it is ruptured.


Most blown eardrums heal over several weeks on their own and do not require treatment. You should avoid water (no swimming or diving), cold air, getting dirt in your ears and were earplugs when you shower. Pain medication and either oral or ear drop antibiotics can be prescribed.

Really, treating a blown ear drum is pretty easy. My instinct was to avoid ear drops, I didn’t think making that area of the ear wet was a good idea, but apparently it is acceptable.

You never know when you may need some little bit of knowledge and I hope this helps. In my case, about two years ago, two got a little aggressive with a Q-tip and we ended up using the same treatment.

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