Tympanic membrane perforation after combat blast exposure in Iraq: a poor biomarker of primary blast injury.
OBJECTIVE: The US military has reported over 10,000 improvised explosive device attacks attributing to over 400 deaths in Iraq in 2005. Otologic blast injury and tympanic membrane (TM) perforation have traditionally been used as a predictor, or biomarker, of serious or occult primary blast injury (PBI). Although combat injuries from the US-Iraq conflict have been described, the utility of TM perforation as a marker of PBI has not. The objective of this study is to determine the incidence of tympanic perforation in patients subject to blast exposures and describe its utility as a biomarker of more serious primary barotrauma, as observed at a US military hospital in Iraq. METHODS: In our institutional review board-approved study, all patients during a 30-day period who arrived at a tertiary US military hospital in Iraq were evaluated. All patients with blast injures were identified on arrival to the hospital emergency department and were followed up through their hospital course and evacuation to the United States to assure they received proper otolaryngology evaluation and follow-up. Demographic data and manifestations of PBI (TM perforation, pneumothorax, pulmonary contusion, nonpenetrating facial sinus injury, and bowel perforation) and other combat injuries were recorded. The diagnostic tests and clinical examination findings used to identify these complications were also recorded. RESULTS: One hundred sixty-seven patients were enrolled over 30 days. All blast exposures resulted from primary or secondary explosions from munitions used in combat. This included both combatants and civilians. All patients were men. The mean patient age was 28 years (range, 12-55 years). Sixteen percent (27 of 167) of blast-exposed patients had TM perforation. Thirteen of 27 patients with perforations had bilateral perforations. Twelve of 167 patients (7%) had PBI. Six of 12 patients (50%) with PBI had TM perforation. The use of TM perforation as a biomarker for PBI resulted in a sensitivity of 50% (95% CI, 22-78%) and specificity of 87% (95% CI, 81-92%). CONCLUSIONS: Both TM perforation and PBI are rare with improvised explosive devices and other explosive devices in the current Iraqi-US conflict. Contrary to previous belief and management guidelines, TM perforation had low sensitivity for serious or occult PBI and was not a good biomarker. On the basis of the findings of this study, the absence of TM perforation does not appear to exclude other serious PBI.
Harrison, CD; Bebarta, VS; Grant, GA
Volume / Issue
Start / End Page
Pubmed Central ID
Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)
International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)