A ruptured eardrum, also called a tympanic membrane perforation, is a hole or tear in the membrane that separates your ear canal from your middle ear. This can cause temporary or permanent hearing loss, as well as make your middle ear more vulnerable to infection. While a ruptured eardrum typically heals within a few weeks on its own, it’s still important to have your ear checked by an audiologist or ENT.
What Are the Symptoms of a Ruptured Eardrum?
Signs that your eardrum has ruptured include:
- Ear pain, though it may subside quickly
- Drainage from the ear (may look like mucus, pus or blood)
- Hearing loss
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ear)
- Vertigo (sensation of spinning/moving)
What Causes the Eardrum to Rupture?
There are many potential causes of a ruptured eardrum. These include:
- Middle ear infection: This type of infection causes fluids to become trapped and build up behind the eardrum. Pressure from this buildup can cause the eardrum to rupture.
- Barotrauma: This is stress on the eardrum caused by unequal air pressure between the ear and in the environment. If the pressure is severe enough, the eardrum can rupture. This can happen when traveling by air, scuba diving and in the case of a direct blow to the ear.
- Acoustic trauma: A loud sound like an explosion or gunshot can cause a tear in the eardrum, though this is rare.
- Foreign objects: Small objects, usually a cotton swab or hairpin, can rupture the eardrum if inserted too deeply.
- Head trauma: Severe injury, like a skull fracture, can cause dislocation or damage to the middle and inner ear structures, your eardrum included.
When to See a Doctor for a Ruptured Eardrum
If you suspect that you’ve ruptured your eardrum, call your doctor right away. The inner and middle ear contain delicate structures that are vulnerable to injury or disease, and it’s important to be evaluated by an expert to ensure they don’t have lasting damage.
At your appointment, the doctor will examine the ear with a lighted instrument called an otoscope. If they suspect an infection or hearing loss, lab tests and hearing evaluations may be ordered. To schedule an appointment for an evaluation, call the experts at Augusta ENT today.