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The eardrum is a thin tissue that stretches across the ear canal. Its function is to protect our inner ear and it plays an important role in our ability to hear and recognize sounds. However, it has a very delicate structure that may easily be perforated or ruptured due to trauma, damage to the ear or infection. Eardrum ruptures usually heal on their own, but if left untreated, they can cause more serious complications or even hearing loss.

What is a ruptured eardrum?

A ruptured eardrum is a small hole or tear to the thin membrane that separates your ear canal from your middle ear. The injury to this membrane may be caused by a puncture from an object such as a cotton swab, or by pressure caused by fluid buildup (a perforated eardrum).

A ruptured eardrum can let air into the middle ear, causing painful middle-ear barotitis (inflammation caused by environmental pressure changes) and possibly hearing loss. Sometimes the eardrum may be healed with treatment, or it may heal on its own.

Symptoms of a ruptured eardrum include:

Causes & Risk Factors

There are many causes and risk factors of a ruptured eardrum. Those include:

  • The use of cotton swabs or Q-tips to remove earwax
  • Forceful nose blowing
  • Severe head trauma or injury
  • Airplane pressure changes
  • Exposure to water in the ear canal for an extended period of time, such as when swimming
  • An infection of the middle ear that causes fluids to accumulate and built pressure
  • Loud noises or blasts

When to see an Audiologist

Schedule an appointment to see an audiologist if you start experiencing signs and symptoms of a ruptured eardrum. The middle and inner ears are made up of delicate structures that can be sensitive to disease and injury, so it’s important to determine whether your symptoms confirm a ruptured eardrum. If you have significant ear pain, hearing loss, discharge from the ear or fever, seek medical attention immediately.

Treatment Options

Most ruptured eardrums heal without treatment over a few weeks, but your doctor may prescribe antibiotic drops if there is a risk of infection. If the tear or hole in the eardrum has trouble healing on its own, other treatment options are available.

  • Eardrum patch – An audiologist may try to treat your ruptured eardrum by sealing it with a paper patch that is anointed with a chemical to promote healing. The procedure may be repeated multiple times before the injury to the eardrum finally heals.
  • Surgery – The most common surgery for an eardrum rupture is tympanoplasty. This is where a surgeon grafts a patch of your own skin over the tear or hole to close the eardrum. Another small surgery may be performed on your eardrum to allow air to enter the middle ear, so it can equalize the pressure on either side of the eardrum and relieve painful barotitis. This also can help with hearing loss.

If you are suffering from symptoms of a ruptured eardrum, don’t hesitate to make an appointment or schedule a hearing test with one of our audiologists at Sonora Hearing Care today.