A ruptured eardrum, also known as a tympanic membrane perforation, is a hole in the tissue dividing your ear canal from your middle ear. It is this thin tissue that vibrates when sound waves enter your ear. Since it is this vibration that allows you to hear, it is not uncommon for hearing to affected when an eardrum is ruptured. Ruptured eardrums typically heal without treatment in a few weeks. However, occasionally, a ruptured eardrum will require surgical repair or a patch to heal correctly. In a small number of cases, a ruptured eardrum may cause permanent hearing loss.
The primary indicator of a ruptured eardrum is the pain associated with it. This pain may be severe, and it might fluctuate in its intensity. A temporary hearing loss is possible, as is tinnitus. Other symptoms you may experience include:
Ear infections can trigger the eardrum to rupture. Bacteria or viruses cause fluid to build-up within the middle ear. Once fluid or pus accumulates, the pressure can cause a tear in the eardrum. Trauma to the ear is another possible cause. Ear tissue is thin, and if you receive a head injury, the impact can tear the thin layer of the membrane. Cotton swabs, pencils, bobby pins, and other small objects placed in the ear can also rupture the eardrum. Children are exceptionally susceptible to this type of injury. Explosions and loud noises can cause a rupture as can differences in air pressure between the inner and outer ear.
If you believe that your eardrum is ruptured, seek medical attention. A healthcare professional will examine your ear to gauge the size of the hole. Ruptured eardrums frequently heal themselves in roughly 1 to 3 months. NSAIDs and warm compresses applied to the ear can help to relieve your pain. Depending upon the severity of the rupture, a healthcare professional may prescribe a course of antibiotics. In a small number of cases, a surgical procedure known as a tympanoplasty may repair the hole.
The best way to manage a ruptured eardrum is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Always seek treatment for middle ear infections as these can easily result in a ruptured eardrum. When flying, especially during takeoffs and landings, try to keep your ears clear by chewing gum, yawning, or using pressure-equalizing earplugs. Avoid putting any small objects in your ears, and please instruct children to do the same. Finally, try to avoid activities that might expose your ears to explosions. If you must be in an environment where an explosion occurs, consider the use of protective earplugs or earmuffs.
A ruptured eardrum is painful. Thankfully, it will usually heal itself over time. Arrange a hearing evaluation with a hearing healthcare professional if you suspect a perforation of your tympanic membrane. And please remember that prevention may help you avoid a ruptured eardrum altogether.