What Does an Eardrum Do?
The eardrum has two main roles:
- Hearing – Your eardrum vibrates from sound waves striking it. In turn, structures in your middle and inner ear translate sound waves into nerve impulses.
- Protection – Acting as a barrier, your eardrum protects your middle ear from water, bacteria, and foreign substances.
What is an Eardrum Perforation?
An eardrum perforation is defined as a hole or rupture in the eardrum. Known medically as a tympanic membrane perforation, this hole or tear occurs in the tympanic membrane separating your outer ear from your middle ear. A perforation can lead to a middle ear infection and hearing loss, though in many cases it will heal on its own without medical treatment.
How Does a Rupture Affect Eardrum Functions?
When sound waves hit the eardrum (tympanic membrane), the eardrum vibrates and moves the tiny bones in your middle ear, which send vibrations to your inner ear. A perforation in the eardrum causes it to not vibrate properly and can cause hearing loss.
When an eardrum is ruptured, it can allow water or bacteria to enter the ear and cause a middle ear infection (otitis media).
What Can Cause Eardrum Perforations?
Eardrum perforations are most often caused by:
Infection. Middle ear infections cause a buildup of pressure that may result in a ruptured eardrum.
Injury. Inserting objects, such as bobby pins or Q-tips in the ear can cause an accidental a rupture. Injury or trauma to the ear and head like a sudden loud noise or skull fracture can cause an eardrum to rupture.
Eustachian tube disorders. Chronic eustachian tube problems can weaken the eardrum, making it more prone to perforation.
What Are the Symptoms of a Perforated Eardrum?
Some people are completely unaware of a ruptured eardrum; there may be a complete lack of symptoms or only a feeling of general discomfort. Other times, people will experience:
- A sudden sharp pain or pop in the ear
- A discharge of fluid that may be bloody, clear or pus-like
- A buzzing or ringing in the ear
- Hearing loss in the affected ear
- Ear infection
- Sensation of air moving through the ear
Are There Any Possible Complications?
If your perforated eardrum does not heal, possible complications include:
Hearing loss due to a perforated eardrum is usually temporary, since any small holes or tears heal up on their own in three to six months. The size and location of the perforation plays a huge role in the eardrum’s healing process, resulting in the degree of hearing loss you may experience. Perforations that do not heal will continue to cause persistent hearing loss in the affected ear.
Middle Ear Infection (otitis media)
A perforated eardrum can allow bacteria to enter the ear. If the perforation doesn’t heal, a small number of people can experience recurrent ear infections.
Middle Ear Cyst (cholesteatoma)
A cholesteatoma is a rare complication of an eardrum perforation. It is an abnormal growth of skin in the middle ear behind the eardrum. The cyst is a result from a long-term development in the middle ear after your eardrum has been perforated.
How Are Eardrum Perforations Diagnosed?
A doctor will examine your ears visually identify a hole or tear in the eardrum. A hearing test may be required.
How is an Eardrum Perforation Treated?
Because many perforated eardrums heal on their own in a few months, no treatment may be needed other than keeping the ear dry and using antibiotics to prevent or treat infection. Nonprescription pain medication and a warm compress can help. Large perforations may require surgery, called a tympanoplasty, to repair and close.
While the rupture is healing you’ll need to keep the ear dry, avoiding water as much as possible.
How Long Does a Perforated Eardrum Take to Heal?
An eardrum perforation can self-heal after three to six months. If complications arise, it may take longer for the eardrum to heal.
Call River ENT at (512) 677-6368 for more information or to schedule an appointment.