Perforation of the eardrum

Specialty of Otolaryngology / ENT

What is eardrum perforation?

Perforation of the eardrum is a rupture or hole produced in the membrane that separates the middle ear from the outer ear. This injury can cause infections by the entrance of bacteria to the ear, even causing hearing loss. However, in most cases a perforated ear drum will heal itself within a few weeks.

If you think you have a perforated eardrum, see your GP.

What are the symptoms of a perforated eardrum?

The main symptoms of a perforated eardrum is sudden hearing loss. You may also experience the following:

  • earache
  • fever
  • tinnitus
  • pus or blood in your ear
  • itching in your ear

What are the causes of eardrum perforation?

The eardrum is a thin structure that can break due to:

  • trauma to the ear
  • very loud noise
  • using sharp objects to clean the ears
  • abrupt changes in pressure, such as when ascending or descending in a plane

Can perforation of the eardrum be prevented?

Although in many cases the causes of eardrum perforation cannot be prevented, you can make sure you:

  • avoid cleaning your ear with cotton swabs or similar instruments
  • always wear adequate ear protection while at a loud concert or working in a job involving high levels of noise

How is eardrum perforation diagnosed?

A GP can diagnose a perforated eardrum by using a small torch and magnifying lens to look inside your ear. You won’t need to be referred for any further tests or scans.

What is the treatment for eardrum perforation?

In general, the perforation of the eardrum heals itself in weeks or months and in most cases hearing is recovered completely. During this time you’ll advised to:

  • avoid the entry of water into the ear
  • take antibiotics if your doctor suspects an infection
  • try not to blow your nose too hard.

If these measures fail to heal the eardrum, you will need to undergo a type of surgery called tympanoplasty. This involves patching the eardrum with a small piece of tissue taken from behind your ear and under the skin.

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