A ruptured eardrum means there’s a hole or tear in your eardrum. A ruptured eardrum may affect your hearing and sense of balance. Ruptured eardrums often heal without treatment. Sometimes, though, you may need surgery to repair your damaged eardrum. Protecting your ears is the best way to prevent ruptured eardrums.
Your eardrum is a flexible membrane that separates your outer ear from your middle ear. You can rupture your eardrum if you have a severe middle ear infection or you injure or damage your eardrum. A ruptured eardrum may affect your hearing and sense of balance. Ruptured eardrums often heal without treatment. Sometimes, however, you may need surgery to repair your damaged eardrum. Protecting your ears is the best way to prevent ruptured eardrums.
Your eardrum is one of many working parts in your hearing system. Your outer ear collects sounds that make your eardrum vibrate. Those vibrations create a signal for your auditory nerve that the nerve sends to your brain. Your brain translates those signals into sound. When you rupture your eardrum, it’s as if there’s a short circuit in your hearing system because your eardrum can’t transmit sound effectively.
Your eardrum also protects your middle ear from foreign substances like water, bacteria and debris like skin cells. A ruptured eardrum is an easy target for bacteria that cause ear infections (otitis media).
Sometimes, skin cells and other debris pass into your middle ear, forming a middle ear cyst (cholesteatoma). These cysts have proteins that may damage your middle ear bones. Middle ear cysts also increase your risk of developing middle ear infections.
In some instances, a ruptured eardrum maybe a serious health issue if the hole or tear in your ear doesn’t heal on its own. For example, a ruptured eardrum can cause the following:
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Unless something hit your ear, you may not realize you have a ruptured eardrum until you have symptoms like changes in your hearing or blood and pus draining from your ear. Common ruptured eardrum symptoms include:
A ruptured eardrum may feel like a sudden sharp pain in your ear. This usually happens if your eardrum is torn or punctured by a sharp object or because something hit your ear very hard.
Eardrum drainage may happen if you have a middle ear infection. Pus from your infection may flow through the rupture.
Middle ear infections are the most common reason for ruptured eardrums. Other ways you may develop a ruptured eardrum include:
Healthcare providers typically examine your inner ear with an otoscope. An otoscope is a lighted instrument that helps healthcare providers look at your eardrum. Hearing specialists called audiologists may also do hearing tests to measure your hearing and eardrum motility. Tests may include:
Ruptured eardrums often heal on their own. When they don’t, people should talk to an ear, nose and throat specialist (ENT) about additional treatment. Treatments may include:
Protecting your ears goes a long way toward preventing a ruptured eardrum. Ways to protect your ears and eardrum include:
Your ruptured eardrum may need several months of healing time. Contact your healthcare provider if you’re still having symptoms like pain, drainage or hearing issues. You may need additional treatment.
The most important step is to protect your ruptured eardrum. You may do that by:
If you know you have a ruptured eardrum, contact a healthcare provider if your symptoms don’t go away within a few weeks.
You should go to the emergency room if you think you may have damaged your eardrum due to a foreign object in your ear.
If you think you have ruptured eardrum, here are some questions you may want to ask a healthcare provider:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Your eardrum is a fragile instrument. It’s also an essential instrument. A ruptured eardrum may affect your hearing and balance. It may also increase your risk of ear infections because your damaged eardrum can’t protect your middle ear from invading bacteria. That’s why it’s important to protect your eardrum. Ruptured eardrums typically heal on their own, but it takes time for them to heal. If you have a ruptured eardrum that isn’t healing, be sure to let your healthcare provider know. You may need surgery.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/21/2022.
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