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Eardrum perforation in explosion survivors: is it a marker of pulmonary blast injury?

STUDY OBJECTIVES: To determine whether isolated eardrum perforation is a marker for concealed blast lung injury in survivors of terrorist bombings.

METHODS: Survivors who arrived at hospitals after 11 terrorist bombings in Israel between April 6, 1994, and March 4, 1996, were examined otoscopically by ear, nose, and throat specialists. All patients with eardrum perforation underwent chest radiography and were hospitalized for at least 24 hours for observation. The clinical course and final outcome of patients with isolated perforation of the eardrums and of those with other blast injuries were surveyed.

RESULTS: A total of 647 survivors were examined; 193 (29.8%) of them sustained primary blast injuries, including 142 with isolated eardrum perforation and 51 with other forms of blast injuries (18 with isolated pulmonary blast injury, 31 with combined otic and pulmonary injuries, and 2 with intestinal blast injury). Blast lung injury was promptly diagnosed on admission by physical examination and chest radiography. No patient presenting with isolated eardrum perforation developed later signs of pulmonary or intestinal blast injury (mean 0%; 95% confidence interval, 0% to 2.7%).

CONCLUSION: Isolated eardrum perforation in survivors of explosions does not appear to be a marker of concealed pulmonary blast injury nor of a poor prognosis. Therefore, in a mass casualty event, persons who have sustained isolated eardrum perforation from explosions may safely be discharged from the emergency department after chest radiography and a brief observation period.

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