An eardrum perforation is defined as a hole or rupture in the eardrum. Known medically as a tympanic membrane rupture, this tear in the membrane separating your outer ear from your inner ear can lead to a middle ear infection and possible hearing loss, though in many cases it will heal on its own without medical treatment.
What Causes an Eardrum Perforation?
The eardrum converts sound waves into nerve impulses that are sent to the brain, and protects the middle ear from bacteria, moisture and other foreign objects. A perforation can disrupt both important functions, allowing bacteria to enter the ear and cause an ear infection (otitis media), and may contribute to a loss of hearing.
Eardrum perforations are most often caused by infection, injury, or Eustachian tube disorders. Middle ear infections cause a buildup of pressure that may result in a ruptured eardrum. Injury or trauma to the ear or head can cause a perforation, as can a skull fracture or sudden loud noise, such as an explosion. Inserting objects like bobby pins or Q-tips in the ear to clean wax can inadvertently cause a rupture, as well. And chronic Eustachian tube problems can weaken the eardrum, making it more prone to perforation.
Symptoms & Treatment
Some people are completely unaware of a ruptured eardrum; there may be a complete lack of symptoms, or only a feeling of general discomfort. Other times, people will experience either a sudden sharp pain in the ear (or a sudden decrease in pain if it has already been present); a discharge of fluid that may be bloody, clear, or pus-like; a buzzing or ringing in the ear; partial or complete hearing loss in the affected ear; ear infection; facial weakness or dizziness.
A doctor will examine the ears with an otoscope to visually identify a hole or tear in the eardrum. Because the majority of perforated eardrums heal on their own in a few months, no treatment may be needed other than antibiotics to prevent or treat infection. Nonprescription pain medication and a warm compress can help. Large perforations may require surgery. While the rupture is healing you’ll need to keep the ear dry, avoiding water as much as possible.