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What Happens if Your Eardrum is Perforated?

The eardrum is a thin layer of tissue dividing the middle ear from the ear canal. As sound waves enter the ear canal, they hit the eardrum, causing vibrations that are turned into nerve signals for the brain.


A perforated (ruptured) eardrum occurs when a hole is made in the tissue membrane. Tears can have a variety of causes. Physical causes, such as a cotton swab pushed too far in the ear canal, are the most common. Direct blows to the ear, such as a sports injury, slap, or other trauma, can also cause a perforation. Though rarer, sudden pressure changes like those experienced during an airplane ride or scuba diving can also cause a rupture.


The symptoms of a perforated eardrum are easy to identify. Immediately following the tear, you will likely experience intense and sharp pain, but this pain will fade over time. Drainage from the ear canal is another telltale symptom, as is decreased hearing or a sensation that sound is muffled. The eardrum cannot properly vibrate, so sounds will not be heard at full volume. Some people also hear ringing in their ears.


Diagnosis is done through a quick visual exam at your doctor’s office. They will use a lighted tool called an otoscope to look in your ear for the physical tear to confirm the perforation.


So, what happens if your eardrum is perforated? The good news is that most eardrum ruptures will heal entirely on their own, often within a few days or weeks. In the meantime, your doctor will create a treatment plan to manage the symptoms you have. If you have pain, painkillers may be recommended or prescribed. Antibiotics may be prescribed to prevent infection through the open hole. In rare cases, a perforated eardrum may not heal as quickly as your doctor likes. In these cases, your doctor may create a patch for the hole using a gel or special tissue paper. In even rarer cases, surgery may be necessary to patch the hole.


Although the ears are often overlooked until something goes wrong, caring for your ears and hearing is important for your health and quality of life. At Biltmore ENT, we treat a wide range of ear problems from hearing loss to vertigo disorders, tinnitus to ear infections. If you are experiencing a perforated eardrum, schedule an appointment with us by calling (602) 956-1250.