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
This membrane vibrates when sound waves enter your ear.
continues through the bones of the middle ear. Because this vibration allows
you to hear, your hearing can suffer if your eardrum is damaged.
A ruptured eardrum is also called a perforated eardrum. In rare cases,
this condition can cause permanent hearing loss.
Causes of eardrum rupture
Ear infections are a common cause of eardrum
rupture, especially in children. During an ear infection, fluids accumulate behind
the eardrum. The pressure from the fluid buildup can cause the tympanic
membrane to break or rupture.
Other activities can cause pressure changes in the
ear and lead to a perforated eardrum. This is known as barotrauma, and it mainly
occurs when the pressure outside the ear is drastically different from the pressure
inside the ear. Activities that can cause barotrauma include:
- scuba diving
- flying in an airplane
- driving at high
- shock waves
- direct, forceful
impact to the ear
Injury or trauma
Injuries can also rupture your eardrum. Any trauma
to the ear or side of the head can cause a rupture. The following have been
known to cause eardrum ruptures:
- getting hit in the ear
- sustaining an injury during sports
- falling on your ear
- car accidents
Inserting any kind of object, such as a cotton
swab, fingernail, or pen, too far into the ear can harm your eardrum as well.
Acoustic trauma, or damage to the ear from
extremely loud noises, can rupture your eardrum. However, these cases are not
Symptoms of eardrum rupture
Pain is the main symptom of eardrum rupture. 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 pain goes
away. At this point, the eardrum is ruptured. Watery, bloody, or pus-filled
fluids may drain from the affected ear. A rupture that results from a middle ear
infection usually causes bleeding. These ear infections are more likely to
happen in young children, people with colds or the flu, or in areas with poor
You may have some temporary hearing loss or a
reduction in hearing in the affected ear. You can also experience tinnitus, a constant ringing or
buzzing in the ears, or dizziness.
Diagnosing eardrum ruptures
Your doctor can use several ways to determine if
you have a ruptured eardrum:
- a fluid sample, in which your doctor tests fluids that may be
leaking from your ear for infection (infection may have caused your eardrum to
- an otoscope exam, in which your doctor uses a specialized device
with a light to look into your ear canal
- an audiology exam, in which your doctor tests your hearing range
and eardrum capacity
- tympanometry, in which your doctor inserts a tympanometer into
your ear to test your eardrum’s response to pressure changes
Your doctor may refer you to an ear, nose, and
throat specialist, or ENT, if you need more specialized examinations or
treatment for a ruptured eardrum.
Treatment for eardrum rupture
Treatments for eardrum rupture are mainly designed
to relieve pain and eliminate or prevent infection.
If your ear does not heal on its own, your doctor
may 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 can clear up infections that might
have led to your eardrum rupture. They also protect you from developing new
infections from the perforation. Your doctor may prescribe oral antibiotics or
medicated eardrops. You may also be told to use both forms of medication.
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.
At home, you can ease the pain of a ruptured
eardrum with heat and pain relievers. Placing a warm, dry compress on your ear
several times daily can help.
Promote healing by not blowing your nose any more
than absolutely necessary. Blowing your nose creates pressure in your ears.
Trying to clear your ears by holding your breath, blocking your nose, and
blowing also creates high pressure in your ears. The increased pressure can be
painful and slow your eardrum’s healing.
Don't use any over-the-counter eardrops unless
your doctor recommends them. If your eardrum is ruptured, fluid from these
drops can get deep into your ear. This can cause further issues.
Eardrum ruptures in children
can happen much more frequently in children because of their sensitive tissue
and narrow ear canals. Using a cotton swab too forcefully can easily damage a
child’s eardrum. Any kind of small foreign object, such as a pencil or hairpin,
can also damage or rupture their eardrum if inserted too far into their ear
Ear infections are
the most common cause of eardrum ruptures in children. Five out of 6
children have at
least one ear infection by the time they’re 3 years old. Your child’s risk of
infection can be higher if they spend time in a group day care or if they
bottle-feed while lying down instead of breast-feed.
See your child’s
doctor right away if you notice any of the following symptoms:
- mild to
- bloody or
pus-filled discharge leaking from the ear
vomiting, or consistent dizziness
- ringing in
Take your child to
an ENT specialist if your doctor is concerned that your child’s ruptured
eardrum needs additional care.
child’s eardrums are delicate, untreated damage can have long-term effects on
their hearing. Teach your child not to stick objects in their ear. In addition,
try to avoid flying with your child if they have a cold or a sinus infection.
The pressure changes could damage their eardrums.
Recovery from eardrum rupture
A ruptured eardrum often heals without any
invasive treatment. Most people with ruptured eardrums experience only
temporary hearing loss. Even without treatment, your eardrum should heal in a
You’ll usually be able to leave the hospital
within one to two days of an eardrum surgery. Full recovery, especially after
treatment or surgical procedures, typically occurs within eight weeks.
Prevention of future ruptures
There are multiple things that you can do to
prevent future eardrum ruptures.
Eardrum ruptures can be easily prevented if you
protect your hearing and avoid injury or putting objects in your ear. Many
infections that cause ruptures can be treated at home with rest and by
protecting your ears. However, see your doctor if you notice discharge from
your ear or you experience severe ear pain for more than a few days. There are
plenty of successful diagnostic and treatment options for ruptured eardrums.