Northside Health Library


Ruptured eardrum

Definition

A ruptured eardrum is an opening or hole in the eardrum, which separates the outer and middle ear. When the eardrum is damaged, the hearing may be harmed.

Alternative Names

Tympanic membrane perforation; Eardrum - ruptured or perforated; Perforated eardrum

Causes

Ear infections may cause a ruptured eardrum, more often in children. The infection causes pus or fluid to build up behind the eardrum. As the pressure increases, the eardrum may break open (rupture).

Damage to the eardrum can also occur from:

Symptoms

Ear pain may suddenly decrease right after your eardrum ruptures.

After the rupture, you may have:

Exams and Tests

The doctor will look in your ear with an instrument called an otoscope or a microscope. If the eardrum is ruptured, the doctor will see an opening in it, and may even see the bones of the middle ear.

Sometimes it is hard for the doctor to see the eardrum because of drainage (pus) from the ear.

Audiology testing can measure how much hearing has been lost.

Treatment

Putting warmth on the ear may help relieve discomfort. Painkillers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen may be used to relieve pain.

Keep the ear clean and dry while it is healing.

  • Place cotton balls in the ear while showering or shampooing to prevent water from entering the ear.
  • Avoid swimming or putting your head underneath the water.

Antibiotics (oral or ear drops) may be used to prevent or treat an infection.

Sometimes the health care provider may place a patch over the eardrum to speed healing. Surgical repair of the eardrum (tympanoplasty) may be needed if the eardrum does not heal on its own.

Outlook (Prognosis)

The opening in the eardrum usually heals by itself within 2 months. Any hearing loss is most often short-term.

Rarely, other problems may occur, such as:

  • Long-term hearing loss
  • Spread of infection to the bone behind the ear (mastoiditis)
  • Long-term vertigo and dizziness

When to Contact a Medical Professional

If your pain and symptoms improve after your eardrum ruptures, you may wait until the next day to see your health care provider.

Call your health care provider right away after your eardrum ruptures if you:

  • Are very dizzy
  • Have a fever, general ill feeling, or hearing loss
  • Have very bad pain or a loud ringing in your ear
  • Have an object in your ear that does not come out
  • Have any symptoms that last longer than 2 months after treatment

Prevention

Do not insert objects into the ear canal, even to clean it. Foreign objects should only be removed by a health care provider. Have ear infections treated promptly.

References

Buttaravoli P, Leffler SM. Perforated tympanic membrane (ruptured eardrum). In: Buttaravoli P, Leffler SM, eds. Minor Emergencies. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2012:chap 37.

Kerschner JE. Otitis media. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 632.


Review Date: 7/30/2012
Reviewed By: Seth Schwartz, MD, MPH, Otolaryngologist, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
adam.com
 

Copyright © 2014 Northside Hospital|Privacy Policy