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Ruptured Eardrum

(Tympanic Membrane Perforation; Perforated Eardrum)

Pronounced: tim-PAN-ik MEM-brayn per-fo-RAY-shun

Definition

Tympanic membrane perforation, or a ruptured eardrum, is a hole in the eardrum (tympanic membrane).

The eardrum is a very thin membrane made of tissue that separates the middle ear from the ear canal. The eardrum aids in hearing and in preventing bacteria and other foreign matter from entering the middle ear.

The Eardrum

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Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Causes    TOP

Eardrums may rupture from a variety of causes, including:

  • Ear infections
  • Puncture from use of a cotton swab or other device inserted in the ear canal
  • Damage to the ear, such as being slapped over ear or and explosion
  • Pressure building up inside the middle ear, as may occur with scuba diving
  • Accidental perforation during ear irrigation or foreign body removal

Risk Factors    TOP

Factors that may increase your chance of a ruptured eardrum include:

  • Having an ear infection
  • History of eardrum ruptures, or ear surgery, such as ear tubes
  • Scuba diving
  • Injury to the ear
  • Inserting objects in the ear

Symptoms    TOP

You may not have any symptoms. For those that have symptoms, a ruptured eardrum may cause:

  • Earache, severe and increasing in its severity
  • Earache, severe, then subsides, then is followed by discharge from the ear
  • Drainage from the ear—may have blood or pus
  • Hearing loss or difficulty hearing out of the affected ear
  • Buzzing or other noise in the ear

People who have traumatic ruptures to the eardrum may be at an increased risk of an ear infection. Infection may occur because the opening in the membrane allows bacteria to enter the middle ear and cause infection.

Diagnosis    TOP

You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. During the exam, the doctor will examine the ear with an otoscope and look to see if the eardrum has been perforated. The perforation is sometimes difficult to see because of the thick drainage in the ear.

Doctors may also perform an audiology test to determine if any hearing loss has occurred.

Treatment    TOP

While many ruptured eardrums will heal on their own, many may also require treatment to heal properly. Options may include:

Medications

Medications may include:

  • Oral antibiotics or antibiotic eardrops if an infection is present or possible
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce pain and inflammation

Surgery

If the eardrum does not heal itself, surgery may be required to repair the perforation, usually with a patch.

Prevention    TOP

To help reduce your chance of a ruptured eardrum:

  • Do not stick cotton swabs or other objects inside the ear
  • Treat ear infections promptly and thoroughly
  • Avoid scuba diving when you have cold or allergy symptoms

RESOURCES:

American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery
http://www.entnet.org
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
http://familydoctor.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Academy of Audiology
http://www.canadianaudiology.ca

References:

Perforated eardrum. American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed August 22, 2017.
Traumatic Perforation of the Tympanic Membrane. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Updated December 2015. Accessed August 22, 2017.
Tympanic membrane perforation. Baylor College of Medicine website. Available at: https://www.bcm.edu/healthcare/care-centers/center-hearing-balance/conditions/tympanic-membrane-perforation. Accessed August 22, 2017.
Tympanic membrane perforation. University of California, Irvine School of Medicine website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed August 22, 2017.
Last reviewed September 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
Last Updated: 9/30/2013

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