Ruptured (Perforated) Eardrum

A ruptured - or perforated - eardrum is undoubtedly one of life’s more unpleasant experiences. However despite the initial alarm it might cause,  in most cases a burst eardrum will heal itself with little fuss within a few weeks. 

That being said, in extremely rare instances you may be required to undergo surgery. 

Whatever the case, it’s important to maintain care of your ear to prevent permanent damage. If you experience any symptoms of a ruptured eardrum, we advise you to contact your GP. If you are concerned about your hearing levels, you can contact National Hearing Care for a consultation.

What are ruptured eardrum symptoms?

To give it its technical name, “tympanic membrane perforation” occurs when a hole or tear forms in your eardrum. 

When that happens, you may experience any of the following:

  • Loss of hearing
  • Sharp pain in your ear
  • Bloody or mucous drainage from your ear
  • A ringing sound
  • Vertigo and associated nausea or vomiting

It’s important to get a medical consultation if any of these occur to prevent possible injury or infection. 

While you’re waiting for a proper diagnosis, try to keep the ear as dry as possible in order to prevent infection - avoid swimming and be careful when showering. Don’t apply any medicated drops unless specifically prescribed to treat infection associated with the perforated eardrum.

Ruptured eardrum causes

The cause of your burst eardrum could be linked to any of the following:

  • A middle ear infection that causes a build-up of fluid in your middle ear, the pressure from which can cause the eardrum to rupture. This is a common way to get a ruptured eardrum, especially amongst children
  • Pressure changes, which can cause a drastic imbalance between the air pressure in your middle ear and that outside of your ear. Known as “barotrauma”, this is associated with scuba diving, plane travel and high altitudes
  • Injury such as a sudden blow to the head or car accidents. Additionally, inserting foreign objects such as cotton swabs into the ear can also cause a puncture or tear
  • Exceptionally loud sounds (also known as acoustic trauma), although this is relatively rare

Does a ruptured eardrum heal?

Yes, in most cases it will heal up by itself. 

Pain-killers and a warm, dry compress will help with the pain. You may be prescribed oral antibiotics or medicinal ear drops to prevent (or clear up) any infections that might occur. It’d also be best to avoid any rigorous physical activity, keep your ear dry (refrain from cleaning it) - and try not to blow your nose any more than necessary.

While complications are unlikely, they are possible - especially if the rupture doesn’t self-heal within three to six months. Prolonged hearing loss in rare cases, for example, can result depending on the size and location of the tear. There’s also a very slight chance of recurrent middle ear infections if bacteria enters through the ruptured eardrum.

 

Other treatments

Patching

In the unlikely event your ear is unable to heal on its own, your doctor may patch the eardrum. Patching refers to the application of a medicated paper patch over the tear in the membrane - thereby helping it grow back together. The procedure may need to be repeated more than once before the hole closes

Surgery

Yes, in some cases you may require surgery to repair the rupture. The standard procedure in this case is called “tympanoplasty”. Here the surgeon takes tissue from another part of your body and grafts it on to the eardrum. Typically, the patient can go home on the same day of the procedure.

Ruptured (perforated) ear drum prevention

There are a number of things we can recommend to avoid it happening in the first place.

  • Be sure to get middle ear infections treated. These often manifest themselves as earache, reduced hearing and associated fever and nasal congestion
  • Take care of your ears on plane trips. This is particularly important if you have something that’s causing nasal or ear congestion, like allergies or a cold. We advise staying awake during takeoffs and landings so you can keep your ears clear by chewing gum or yawning
  • Never put any kind of foreign object into your ears.  That applies to cotton swabs you might want to use to clean up excess earwax
  • Lastly, avoid situations that place you in proximity to explosive noise. And in cases where your occupation requires you to do, be sure to protect your ears from any sort of adverse impact with protective ear plugs or muffs
Concerned about your hearing? Book an appointment

Get support and advice

Request an appointment

Book now

Take an online hearing test

Take the test

Find a clinic near you

Find a clinic