Mechanical damage of tympanic membrane in relation to impulse pressure waveform – A study in chinchillas

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Mechanical damage to middle ear components in blast exposure directly causes hearing loss, and the rupture of the tympanic membrane (TM) is the most frequent injury of the ear. However, it is unclear how the severity of injury graded by different patterns of TM rupture is related to the overpressure waveforms induced by blast waves. In the present study, the relationship between the TM rupture threshold and the impulse or overpressure waveform has been investigated in chinchillas. Two groups of animals were exposed to blast overpressure simulated in our lab under two conditions: open field and shielded with a stainless steel cup covering the animal head. Auditory brainstem response (ABR) and wideband tympanometry were measured before and after exposure to check the hearing threshold and middle ear function. Results show that waveforms recorded in the shielded case were different from those in the open field and the TM rupture threshold in the shielded case was lower than that in the open field (3.4 ± 0.7 vs. 9.1 ± 1.7 psi or 181 ± 1.6 vs. 190 ± 1.9 dB SPL). The impulse pressure energy spectra analysis of waveforms demonstrates that the shielded waveforms include greater energy at high frequencies than that of the open field waves. Finally, a 3D finite element (FE) model of the chinchilla ear was used to compute the distributions of stress in the TM and the TM displacement with impulse pressure waves. The FE model-derived change of stress in response to pressure loading in the shielded case was substantially faster than that in the open case. This finding provides the biomechanical mechanisms for blast induced TM damage in relation to overpressure waveforms. The TM rupture threshold difference between the open and shielded cases suggests that an acoustic role of helmets may exist, intensifying ear injury during blast exposure.

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