A perforated eardrum, known medically as a tympanic membrane rupture, is a hole or tear in the membrane that separates the outer ear from the middle ear.
Some patients are completely oblivious to an eardrum perforation, while others feel a sharp pain. Many ruptured eardrums heal on their own, though in some cases ear infections and hearing loss may result.
The eardrum serves a couple of very important functions: it converts sound waves to nerve impulses and forwards those to the brain, and it prevents moisture, bacteria and other objects from entering the middle ear. Any rupture or tear in the membrane disrupts hearing and leaves the middle ear vulnerable to infection and disease.
Infections of the middle ear are the most common cause of eardrum perforations. When fluid is trapped in the ear canal it causes pressure to build; often when that is released, it results in a ruptured eardrum.
- Loud noise(s) close to the ear, such as a blast or explosion
- Inappropriate use of foreign objects, such as a cotton swab, in the external ear canal
- Sharply variant pressure differentials, which may occur when engaging in activities like diving, flying, or scuba diving
- Trauma resulting from a blow to the head or ear
When the rupture happens, you may experience:
- Ear pain
- Fluid drainage from the affected area
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- Facial weakness
- Hearing loss (either partial or total)
Most eardrum perforations eventually close on their own, without treatment. Antibiotics may be given to prevent or treat an infection. With a perforation of the ear drum, care should be taken to keep moisture from entering the ear canals. Patients can be given medication for pain relief, and the use of a warm compress on the affected ear can also help soothe. If the perforation is especially large, surgery to repair it may be necessary.