Reviewed by Dr. Porter on September 9, 2020
Most people in the United States enjoy what might be described as the “priceless gift of good hearing.” However, more than 200,000 people each year experience a ruptured eardrum (also called a perforated eardrum). That is usually a temporary condition, but it can also have serious and long-lasting consequences if not treated quickly and properly.
A ruptured eardrum is simply a perforation, or a tear, in the thin skin-like tympanic membrane that separates one’s outer ear from the delicate structures of the middle and inner areas. It senses vibrating sound waves and passes the vibrations through the bones of the middle ear. Because these vibrations allow a person to hear, one’s hearing will suffer if the eardrum is damaged. It is also a protective device, shielding the inner area from the potential damage of bacteria, water, and foreign objects.
The causes of a ruptured eardrum are:
Major pressure changes caused by activities like scuba diving, shock waves from a nearby explosion, a gunshot, or a sudden blast of very loud music.
Injuries can also cause a rupture, such as getting forcefully hit in or near the ear, falling on one’s ear, a car accident, or major bodily contact in sports. Inserting any object too far into the canal such as a cotton swab, pen, hairpin, or paper clip can also cause injury.
How Do You Know If You Ruptured Your Eardrum?
A ruptured drum can happen suddenly in the case of an injury or accident, resulting in sharp pain. Other signs include:
- Ringing in the ear (tinnitus).
- A spinning sensation called vertigo, with accompanying nausea or vomiting.
- Episodic ear infections.
- Facial weakness or dizziness.
- Hearing loss.
- Drainage that can be clear, bloody, or puss-like and which is usually smelly.
- Lingering discomfort in the ear; a feeling that “something’s just not right.”
Can You Regain Hearing After a Ruptured Eardrum?
The answer in most cases is “yes.” A small hole or tear in the drum will usually heal in a few weeks and the hearing returns rather quickly. However, if the rupture is associated with middle ear infection and fluid in the middle ear, the healing may take up to two months with hearing not completely returning until the entire infection has been resolved. Larger tears may require surgery, which may require up to eight weeks of recovery. If a ruptured drum does not heal or the damage that required surgical repair was not made, hearing loss could become permanent.
How Does a Ruptured Eardrum Heal?
A doctor can determine the causes of eardrum rupture symptoms by using laboratory tests to evaluate fluid drainage, doing a tuning fork evaluation, performing an audiology exam, conducting an otoscope light exam, or by using a tympanometer to assess changes in air pressure.
Treatments for an eardrum rupture range from the simple to the more complex. On the simple side, a doctor may prescribe oral antibiotics and/or medicated drops to clear up infections and to prevent further infections. If the rupture does not heal on its own, a doctor can patch the eardrum by placing a medicated patch over the tear to help the membrane grow back together. On the complex side, surgery may be required to repair the eardrum. At home, recovery can be aided by using heat like a warm, dry compress, and over-the-counter pain relievers.
What Should You Not Do with a Ruptured Eardrum?
- Don’t blow your nose because that causes pressure on the ears.
- Don’t use any medications unless prescribed by the doctor.
- Don’t get water in your ear until it heals.
- Don’t forget to protect your ears from loud noises.
- Don’t clean your ears.
Get Help With Your Hearing Loss
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Categorised in: Hearing Loss