Eardrum Rupture

Written by Erica Roth | Published on July 2, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

What Is an Eardrum Rupture?

An eardrum rupture is a small hole or tear in your eardrum, or tympanic membrane. The tympanic membrane is a thin tissue that divides your middle ear and outer ear canal.

This membrane vibrates when sound waves enter your ear. The vibration continues through the bones of the middle ear. You hear sounds because of this vibration, so your hearing can suffer if your eardrum is damaged.

A ruptured eardrum is also called a perforated eardrum. In rare cases, the condition can cause permanent hearing loss.

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Causes of Eardrum Rupture

Infection

Ear infections are a common cause of eardrum rupture, especially in children. When you have an ear infection, fluids accumulate behind the eardrum. The pressure caused by the buildup of fluids can cause the tympanic membrane to break or rupture.

Pressure Changes

Other activities that cause a change of pressure in the ear can also lead to a perforated eardrum. These include:

  • scuba diving
  • flying in an airplane
  • driving at high altitudes

Injury or Trauma

An injury can also rupture your eardrum. Any type of trauma to the ear or side of the head can cause a rupture. Even cleaning your ears with cotton swabs can be potentially damaging to your eardrum if you are not careful.

Acoustic trauma—or damage to the ear due to extremely loud noises—can cause your eardrum to rupture. However, these cases are not as common.

Symptoms of Eardrum Rupture

Pain is the main symptom of eardrum rupture. Every person experiences the pain differently. For some, the pain may be severe. It can remain steady throughout the day, or it can increase or decrease in intensity.

Usually the ear begins to drain once the pain goes away. The eardrum at this point is ruptured, and fluids that are watery, bloody, or filled with pus may drain from the affected ear.

You may have some temporary hearing loss, or a reduction in hearing in the affected ear. You can also experience tinnitus—a ringing or buzzing in the ears.

If your eardrum was severely ruptured, you might suffer from additional symptoms, such as dizziness or a weakness in your facial muscles.

Treatment for Eardrum Rupture

Treatments for an eardrum rupture are mainly designed to relieve pain and to eliminate or prevent infection. You can ease the pain of a ruptured eardrum at home with heat and pain relievers. One simple remedy is to place a warm, dry compress on your ear several times daily.

Patching

If your ear does not heal on its own, your doctor might decide to patch the eardrum. Patching involves placing a medicated paper patch over the tear in the membrane. The patch encourages the membrane to grow back together.

Antibiotics

Antibiotics will clear up the infection that might have led to your eardrum rupture. They will also protect you from developing new infections as a result of the perforation. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics in an oral pill form or as medicated eardrops. You may also be told to use both forms of medication.

Surgery

In rare cases, surgery may be required to patch the hole in the eardrum. A surgical repair of a perforated eardrum is called tympanoplasty. During tympanoplasty, your surgeon takes tissue from another area of your body and grafts it onto the hole in your eardrum.

Outlook, Recovery, and Prevention of Future Ruptures

A ruptured eardrum often heals without any invasive treatment. Most people with ruptured eardrums experience only a temporary hearing loss. You can usually expect a full recovery within eight weeks.

You can promote healing by not blowing your nose any more than absolutely necessary. Blowing your nose creates pressure in your ears. The increased pressure can be painful and can also slow your eardrum’s healing. It is important to keep your ear dry to prevent further infection. You can gently stuff your ears with cotton when you bathe to prevent water from entering the ear canal. Your doctor will most likely ask you to avoid swimming until your ear heals.

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