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Perforated Eardrum
(Ruputured Eardrum)

Facts and definition of perforated (ruptured) eardrum

  • The eardrum (tympanic membrane) is a thin, oval layer of tissue deep in the ear canal that helps protect the delicate middle and inner ear from the outside. Because it is so thin, the eardrum can be ruptured or perforated, exposing the ear to damage or infection.
  • The main causes of perforated eardrum are infection of the middle ear or trauma to the ear or head.
  • Symptoms and signs of perforated eardrum include
  • ear pain,
  • Seek medical care for a perforated eardrum if you have difficulty walking, changes in hearing, severe spinning sensation, or your head goes under water. Seek emergency medical treatment if you have a stiff neck, high fever, "the worst headache of your life," numbness or tingling, difficulty speaking, vomiting, vision changes, or difficulty staying awake.
  • A health-care professional can tell if you have a ruptured eardrum by using an otoscope, which is an instrument that has a magnifier with a light, designed to look inside the ear. Other tests may include a tympanogram (a burst of air against the eardrum), or an audiogram (hearing test).
  • Most of the time, a perforated eardrum will heal on its own within two months.
  • If treatment is necessary, it may include pain relievers and antibiotics. In some cases, surgery is require to repair the rupture.
  • Not all cases of perforated eardrum can be prevented, but you can lower your risk by treating ear infections, avoiding flying or scuba diving if you have a sinus or upper respiratory tract infection, not putting anything in your ear, and wearing proper ear protection when needed.
  • Most ruptured eardrums will heal on their own within two months with no long-term symptoms. In rare cases, infection can spread to the brain or skull, requiring immediate medical attention.
Picture of the inner and outer structures of the ear
Picture of the inner and outer structures of the ear

What is a perforated (ruptured) eardrum?

A perforated (ruptured) eardrum is a hole or tear in the eardrum.

  • The eardrum (tympanic membrane) is a thin, oval layer of tissue deep in the ear canal.
  • It is called an eardrum because it looks and acts like a drum.
  • The eardrum helps protect the delicate middle and inner ear from the outside, and it receives vibrations from the outer ear and transmits them to the small hearing bones (ossicles), of the middle ear.
  • Because the eardrum is so thin, it can be ruptured or punctured. The hole or tear exposes the middle and inner ear to damage or infection.
  • An eardrum rupture is also called a tympanic membrane perforation.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/21/2017

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What Are the Signs and Symptoms of an Earache?

The most common symptom of an earache is ear pain. Other symptoms associated with the earache depend upon the cause, and may include:

  • Swelling
  • Fever
  • Itching
  • Draining
  • Ringing in the ear
  • Decreased hearing
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Middle Ear, Tympanic Membrane, Perforations »

Tympanic membrane perforation (TMP) is a condition as old as the human species.

Read More on Medscape Reference »

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