A perforated eardrum can happen for a number of reasons and can result in ear pain and temporary hearing loss. It will typically heal on its own within a few weeks, but it’s best to see your GP as it can lead to an ear infection.
Symptoms of a perforated eardrum
- Ear pain
- Sudden loss of hearing
- Itchy ear
- Tinnitus (a ringing in the ear)
- A high temperature
- Discharge from the ear
Ruptured eardrum causes
A ruptured eardrum can be caused by a number of things, including:
This is one of the most common causes of a perforated eardrum. When there is an infection in the ear, fluid builds up just behind the eardrum. The eardrum can perforate when the pressure behind the eardrum gets too high. You might find you have some discharge as the fluid from the infection can now drain out.
The eardrum can also rupture when people put foreign objects too far into their ears, such as cotton buds or hair pins when trying to clean out earwax. A blow to the ear or side of the head could also cause an eardrum rupture.
Changes in pressure
Some cases can happen as a result of ear barotrauma, a condition that affects the ears when there is a change in air pressure, for example when you’re on a plane or scuba diving. When the pressure difference between the inside and outside of the ear is too high, it can cause the eardrum to rupture.
Sudden loud noise
Also known as acoustic trauma, this is a less common cause of a perforated eardrum, caused by a very loud noise like an explosion or sudden loud blast of music.
Diagnosing a ruptured eardrum
Your GP will look for a hole or tear in the eardrum by using a magnifying instrument called an otoscope.
They may also check your hearing or perform some other tests to determine the extent of the tear or possible causes.
Treatment for a ruptured eardrum
Ruptured eardrums often improve by themselves after a few weeks, so they don’t always require any treatment. But it’s best to see your GP so that they can determine the cause and recommend any treatment that you might need.
They might prescribe a course of antibiotics to clear up an existing ear infection, or to prevent one from developing.
While your eardrum heals, you might find it helpful to take some over-the-counter pain relievers or apply a warm compress to soothe any discomfort. You should avoid going swimming, getting your ear wet, or trying to clean your ears, too.
If your symptoms aren’t improving after a few weeks or it’s taking a long time for your eardrum to heal, you should go back to your GP who might refer you to a specialist to patch the eardrum or assess whether you’d benefit from surgery. You can learn more about types of eardrum repair procedures here.
Preventing a ruptured eardrum
If you think you have symptoms of an ear infection, you should see your GP for treatment which will reduce the risk of causing a burst eardrum.
When you’re trying to clean your ears, avoid putting anything like cotton buds, hair pins or pens in your ears as they can damage your eardrum. The rule to remember is: don’t put anything smaller than your elbow in your ear. If you get something stuck in your ear, see your GP rather than trying to get it out yourself.