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Ruptured eardrum (perforated eardrum)

Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Jan 8, 2024.

Overview

A ruptured eardrum (tympanic membrane perforation) is a hole or tear in the thin tissue that separates the ear canal from the middle ear (eardrum).

A ruptured eardrum can result in hearing loss. It can also make the middle ear vulnerable to infections.

A ruptured eardrum usually heals within a few weeks without treatment. But sometimes it requires a patch or surgical repair to heal.

Ruptured eardrum

A ruptured (perforated) eardrum prevents the proper transmission of sound waves to the middle ear and leaves the middle ear vulnerable to infectious agents, water and other foreign substances.

Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of a ruptured eardrum may include:

When to see a doctor

Call your health care provider if you have signs or symptoms of a ruptured eardrum. The middle and inner ears are made up of delicate structures that are sensitive to injury or disease. It is important to try to figure out the cause of ear symptoms and determine whether a ruptured eardrum has occurred.

Causes

Causes of a ruptured (perforated) eardrum may include:

Middle ear

The middle ear has three small bones — the hammer, or malleus; the anvil, or incus; and the stirrup, or stapes. The eardrum keeps the bones away from the outer ear. A narrow path called the eustachian tube joins the middle ear to the back of the nose and upper part of the throat. The cochlea, a snail-shaped structure, is part of your inner ear.

Complications

The eardrum (tympanic membrane) has two primary roles:

If the eardrum ruptures, uncommon problems can occur, especially if it fails to self-heal after three to six months. Possible complications include:

Prevention

Follow these tips to avoid a ruptured (perforated) eardrum:

Diagnosis

Your provider or an ENT specialist can often determine if you have a ruptured (perforated) eardrum with a visual inspection using a lighted instrument (otoscope or microscope).

Your provider may conduct or order additional tests to determine the cause of your ear symptoms or to detect the presence of any hearing loss. These tests include:

Treatment

Most ruptured (perforated) eardrums heal without treatment within a few weeks. Your provider may prescribe antibiotic drops if there's evidence of infection. If the tear or hole in the eardrum doesn't heal by itself, treatment will likely involve procedures to close the tear or hole. These may include:

Tympanoplasty

In some cases, your surgeon treats a ruptured eardrum with a procedure called tympanoplasty. Your surgeon grafts a tiny patch of your own tissue to close the hole in the eardrum.

Self care

A ruptured (perforated) eardrum usually heals on its own within weeks. In some cases, healing takes months. Until your provider tells you that your ear is healed, protect it by:

Preparing for your appointment

If you have signs or symptoms of a perforated eardrum, you're likely to start by seeing your provider. However, your provider may refer you to a specialist in ear, nose and throat (ENT) disorders (otolaryngologist).

Here's some information to help you prepare for your appointment.

What you can do

Make a list ahead of time that you can share with your provider. Your list should include:

If you think you have signs or symptoms of a ruptured eardrum, you may want to ask your provider some of the following questions.

Don't hesitate to ask other questions you have.

What to expect from your doctor

Your provider is likely to ask you a number of questions, including:

What you can do in the meantime

If you think that you have a ruptured eardrum, be careful to keep your ears dry to prevent infection.

Don't go swimming until your condition has been evaluated and discussed with your provider. To keep water out of the ear when showering or bathing, use a moldable, waterproof silicone earplug or put a cotton ball coated with petroleum jelly in the outer ear.

Don't put medication drops in the ear unless your provider prescribes them specifically for infection related to the perforated eardrum.

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