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Int J Pediatr Otorhinolaryngol. 1999 Nov 15;51(1):11-21.

The character and consequences of disturbing sound sensations in retraction type middle ear disease.

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  • 1Department of Otorhinolaryngology, Hospital of Boden, Sweden.



Transient sound disturbances are common but neglected symptoms in retraction type middle ear disease (R-MED). The aim of this study was to explore and describe their character, their individual consequences, and their role in the development of tympanic membrane retractions.


Fifty-three subjects with manifest retractions and experiences of disturbing sound and ear sensations were interviewed. A qualitative method was used for analysis of the transcribed interviews.


Two different patterns emerged from the interviews. 1. Too weak sound was the least common and most tolerable disturbance. It occurred in 45% and was eliminated by Valsalva's inflation. 2. Sudden and transient sensations of too loud and piercing sound, and intermittent autophony frequently caused intense and intolerable discomfort, which might in turn cause loss of control of speech and conversation. These types occurred in 74% and 60%, respectively, and were eliminated by evacuating the middle ear, for example by sniffing. Subjects who described too loud sound or intermittent autophony commonly preferred a retracted tympanic membrane position. This may explain why pressure equalization by swallowing, and inflation by Valsalva's manoeuvre often elicited discomfort.


Transient experiences of too loud sound or intermittent autophony may indicate a shift of sound preference towards the sound experienced at negative middle ear pressure, and an unreliable tubal function in the sense that it fails to stay closed to protect the ear from sounds and pressure variations in the nasopharynx. Such experiences of altered sound may trigger evacuation of the middle ear, which eliminates the sound disturbance. It is crucial to identify, interpret, and explain the disturbances correctly in the therapy and prevention of retractions, since habitual evacuation exposes the tympanic membrane to strong negative pressure loads and a subsequent risk of developing retraction.

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