An eardrum rupture is a small hole or tear in your eardrum, or tympanic membrane.
Ruptured ear drum makes ear susceptible to infections and can also cause hearing loss. The tear in the ear drum heals on its own without any treatment, but in few cases, it requires a surgical procedure.
Important roles of Eardrum
- Hearing. When sound waves strike it, your eardrum vibrates — the first step by which structures of your middle and inner ears translate sound waves into nerve impulses.
- Protection. Your eardrum also acts as a barrier, protecting your middle ear from water, bacteria and other foreign substances.
What Causes a Ruptured Eardrum?
A number of things can cause the eardrum to rupture; one of the most common causes is an ear infection. When the middle ear is infected, pressure builds up and pushes against the eardrum. When the pressure gets too great, it can cause the eardrum to perforate. When that happens, you may suddenly notice that the pain and pressure you’ve felt from the infection suddenly stops and pus drains from the ear.
Another common cause of a ruptured eardrum is poking the eardrum with a foreign object, such as a cotton-tipped swab or a bobby pin that’s being used to clean wax out of the ear canal. Sometimes children can puncture their own eardrum by putting objects such as a stick or a small toy in their ear.
Signs and symptoms of a ruptured eardrum may include:
- Ear pain that may subside quickly
- Clear, pus-filled or bloody drainage from your ear
- Hearing loss
- Ringing in your ear (tinnitus)
- Spinning sensation (vertigo)
- Nausea or vomiting that can result from vertigo
How is a Ruptured Ear Drum Treated?
The treatment of a ruptured ear drum is not usually complicated. In most cases, the ear drum will heal on its own in a matter of days. You should see a doctor if you suspect an ear infection, or if persistent ear drainage or hearing loss is involved. A doctor may prescribe antibiotics if an ear infection caused the rupture or if an active infection is suspected. Over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen are often helpful for pain.
In some rare cases, it may be necessary for a doctor to surgically repair the perforation (hole). This usually involves placing a patch over the damaged part of the ear and can sometimes even be done in the physician’s office. You should probably keep water out of your ear until the perforation has healed to avoid infection. Your doctor will give you more detailed instruction about how to care for your ear after this procedure.
If your ruptured ear drum was caused by underlying auditory tube dysfunction this should also be treated. You may need to be tested for allergies or have sinus problems treated. These issues are usually best addressed by a doctor who specializes in disorders of the ear, nose and throat (an otolaryngologist or ENT).
Follow these tips to avoid a ruptured or perforated eardrum:
- Get treatment for middle ear infections. Be aware of the signs and symptoms of middle ear infection, including earache, fever, nasal congestion and reduced hearing. Children with a middle ear infection often rub or pull on their ears. Seek prompt evaluation from your primary care doctor to prevent potential damage to the eardrum.
- Protect your ears during flight. If possible, don’t fly if you have a cold or an active allergy that causes nasal or ear congestion. During takeoffs and landings, keep your ears clear with pressure-equalizing earplugs, yawning or chewing gum. Or use the Valsalva maneuver — gently blowing, as if blowing your nose, while pinching your nostrils and keeping your mouth closed. Don’t sleep during ascents and descents.
- Keep your ears free of foreign objects. Never attempt to dig out excess or hardened earwax with items such as a cotton swab, paper clip or hairpin. These items can easily tear or puncture your eardrum. Teach your children about the damage that can be done by putting foreign objects in their ears.
- Guard against excessive noise. Protect your ears from unnecessary damage by wearing protective earplugs or earmuffs in your workplace or during recreational activities if loud noise is present.