The eardrum is a thin membrane found inside the ear, which detects sound vibrations and helps transmit them to the brain. It also plays an important role in protecting the inner ear from bacteria and other foreign objects. A perforated eardrum (or perforated ear drum) occurs when this membrane is torn or damaged, leading to reduced hearing and possible ear infection. Symptoms of a burst eardrum must not be ignored and medical attention must be sought to protect your hearing and ear health.
What Is Perforated Eardrum?
Perforation of the eardrum (tympanic membrane) creates an opening on the thin membrane separating the ear canal from your middle ear. It may occur due to physical trauma, an ear infection, and negative pressure caused by diving underwater or flying in an airplane. A perforated eardrum can cause temporary loss of hearing, pain, and sometimes ear discharge.
Causes of Perforated Eardrum
Perforation of your eardrum may be due to various causes:
- Infection of your middle ear, which may damage your eardrum. Infection is often associated with pus or ear discharge that runs from the middle to the outer ear.
- Direct trauma to the ear such as a hard punch to your ear.
- A sudden, very loud noise such as an explosion that occurs near you can produce shock waves that tear your eardrum. Usually, this type of injury is severe and can lead to significant hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in the ear).
- Barotrauma, which is caused by a sudden change in air pressure that leads to sharp pressure differences between the outer and the middle ear. A descending aircraft commonly causes ear pain due to increased tension of the eardrum.
- Poking a foreign body such as a pencil or Q-tip into the ear may also damage the membrane.
- Grommets, or tiny tubes inserted through the eardrum to drain mucus or pus, may fall off creating tiny perforations in the eardrum. Such small tear usually heals on its own.
Symptoms of Perforated Eardrum
Symptoms of a perforated eardrum include:
- Ear pain that quickly subsides
- Bloody drainage or clear mucus from the ear
- Loss of hearing
- Tinnitus, or ringing sensation in the ear
- Vertigo, or spinning sensation
- Nausea/vomiting associated with vertigo
The middle ear has complicated structure and acute sensation to injury or disease. Therefore, you need to visit your doctor if you have any of the above signs of perforated eardrum, or experience any discomfort or pain within your ear. Take proper therapy or medical treatment to maintain your hearing.
Home Remedies for Perforated Eardrum
A perforated eardrum usually heals by itself within 6 to 8 weeks. However, a doctor may decide to prescribe antibiotics if there is risk of infection in the middle ear while your eardrum is healing. Home remedies may include:
Keep Your Ears Dry
Moisture inside the ear may encourage bacterial infection, which could delay healing. Take medications as prescribed and avoid getting liquids into your ear. Wear a shower cap or use Vaseline on cotton balls inside your ears while bathing to ensure dryness of your ear. Avoid swimming and submerging in water while your eardrum heals.
Do not use cotton swabs or insert anything into the ear while it is healing. Your ear may itch during healing, but it is important to let it heal completely.
Warm Your Ear
Applying a hot compress or heating pad on the ear. This can help to ease pain and soothe swelling.
Protect the Ears
Protect your ears from too much pressure by not blowing your nose, which can make the perforation worse. Avoid flying when you have a cold, and use earplugs when flying to prevent recurrence of perforated eardrum. Wear ear muffs or a hat to protect your ears from cold. Always treat ear infections immediately to avoid getting eardrum perforation or other issues.
Medical Treatment for Perforated Eardrum
In most cases, perforated eardrums heal without treatment. However, your doctor may also prescribe antibiotics to treat a perforated eardrum. This is usually taken by mouth since ear drops can cause more damage in the ear. You may also be advised to take over-the-counter pain relievers. These include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which help reduce your pain and inflammation.
If a tear in the eardrum does not heal by itself, surgical treatment may be needed to close the large perforation. Techniques may include:
- Eardrum patch. In this office procedure, a medical specialist (ENT) may seal the hole with a patch. The doctor will apply a chemical to the perforated edges to stimulate tissue growth and a patch to cover the hole. This procedure may be done repeatedly before the hole is closed.
- Surgery. This is done if a patch does not lead to proper healing. The most common procedure is tympanoplasty, where the surgeon places a graft of your own tissue on the hole of the eardrum. This office procedure is usually done without anesthesia so you can go home the same day.
If you want to know more vivid information about perforated eardrum, watch the video below: