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Experimental investigations of the use of cartilage in tympanic membrane reconstruction

T Zahnert, K B Hüttenbrink, D Mürbe, M Bornitz
American Journal of Otology 2000, 21 (3): 322-8

BACKGROUND: Temporalis fascia, perichondrium, and cartilage are commonly used for reconstruction of the tympanic membrane in middle ear surgery. Cartilage grafts offer the advantage of higher mechanical stability, particularly in cases of chronic tubal dysfunction, adhesive processes, or total defects of the tympanic membrane, in contrast to fascia and perichondrium, which presumably offer better acoustic quality.

HYPOTHESIS: The purpose of this study was to determine the acoustic transfer characteristics of cartilage of varying thickness and its mechanical deformation when exposed to fluctuations in atmospheric pressure.

METHOD: Ten pairs of cartilage specimens from the cavum conchae and the tragus were obtained from fresh human cadavers. Young's modulus was determined by mechanical tension tests and statistically evaluated using the t test. The acoustic transfer characteristics of an additional 10 specimens were measured by a laser Doppler Interferometer after stimulation with white noise in an external auditory canal--tympanic membrane model. Mechanical stability was determined by measuring displacement of the cartilage using static pressure loads of < or = 4 kPa.

RESULTS: Young's modulus determinations for conchal and tragal cartilage were 3.4 N/mm2 and 2.8 N/mm2, respectively, but the difference was not significant. Acoustic testing showed a 5-dB higher vibration amplitude in the midfrequency range for conchal compared with tragal cartilage, but the difference was not significant. Reducing cartilage thickness led to an improvement of its acoustic transfer qualities, with a thickness < or = 500 microm resulting in an acceptable acoustic transfer loss compared with the tympanic membrane.

CONCLUSION: Both conchal and tragal cartilage are useful for reconstruction of the tympanic membrane from the perspective of their acoustic properties. The acoustic transfer loss of cartilage can be reduced by decreasing its thickness. A thickness of 500 microm is regarded as a good compromise between sufficient mechanical stability and low acoustic transfer loss.

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