An eardrum perforation is defined as a hole or rupture in the eardrum. Known medically as a tympanic membrane rupture, this tear occurs in the membrane separating your outer ear from your inner ear. A perforation can lead to a middle ear infection and possible hearing loss, though in many cases it will heal on its own without medical treatment.
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) or contribute to a loss of hearing.
What Can Cause Eardrum Perforations?
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.
What Are the Symptoms of Eardrum Perforation?
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; 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.
How Are Eardrum Perforations Treated?
An ENT or audiologist will examine your 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.