A ruptured or perforated eardrum is exactly what you might imagine: a tear or hole in the eardrum — the part of the ear that vibrates in response to sound waves. Eardrum injuries can be extremely painful and, in the worst cases, might lead to infections and hearing loss.
Fortunately, though, most eardrum injuries heal within a few weeks with no problems. When an eardrum won't heal on its own, surgery may be needed to repair it and restore normal hearing.
The eardrum, also called the tympanic membrane, is the thin, cone-shaped piece of tissue that separates the outer ear from the middle ear. It's found at the end of the ear canal (the part that gets waxy).
The hearing process begins when the pinna (the part of the ear that's visible) funnels sound waves into the ear canal, where they hit the eardrum and make it vibrate. In the inner ear, these vibrations are converted into nerve impulses by the snail-shaped cochlea. These impulses then travel to the brain along the cochlear nerve, also known as the auditory nerve. The brain's auditory cortex receives these signals and interprets them as different sounds.
If the eardrum is perforated, it can hurt the eardrum's ability to vibrate correctly, leading to muffled or diminished hearing. Hearing loss is usually temporary and can vary in intensity based on the size and location of the injury.
Sometimes bacteria and other materials enter the middle ear through this opening and can cause an infection. Fortunately, this rarely leads to permanent hearing damage.
Many people don't know that cleaning their ears with cotton swabs is a major cause of eardrum injuries. That's because poking around in the ear canal too harshly can easily injure the eardrum's fragile tissue, especially in young children, who have very narrow ear canals. (Tip: To clean wax build-up in the ears, opt for a wet washcloth and gently wipe outside the ear canal.)
But eardrums can be injured in lots of other ways, including:
When a child injures an eardrum, the first symptom is usually ear pain, which can range from mild to severe and might increase for a time before suddenly decreasing.
Other symptoms of an injured eardrum include:
If your child has symptoms of a ruptured or perforated eardrum, call a doctor right away. Most injuries will heal on their own, but you should ensure that any hearing loss is only temporary.
Also seek medical care right away if your child has severe symptoms, such as bloody discharge from the ear, extreme pain, total hearing loss in one ear, or dizziness that causes vomiting.
To check for ruptured or perforated eardrum, the doctor will examine your child's ear canal with a lighted tool called an otoscope. Sometimes the doctor will be able to see the tear in the eardrum, but other times fluid in the ear will block the view.
The doctor might order other tests to check for hearing loss, such as:
If there is fluid leaking from the ear, the doctor might send a sample for testing to see if there is an infection of the middle ear or inner ear.
Usually, eardrum injuries heal on their own within a few weeks without any treatment. While the eardrum is healing, over-the-counter pain relievers can help ease any pain. Ask your doctor about which pain relievers are best for your child.
To help prevent infections or treat an existing infection, the doctor may prescribe antibiotics. These may be liquid or pills to be swallowed or ear drops. Never give your child over-the-counter ear drops unless your doctor recommends it. Some drops are not meant to be used if there is a hole in the eardrum because they can cause problems with the middle ear or cochlea.
To protect the eardrum while it heals, your doctor may advise keeping your child's ear dry. Tell your child to keep his or her head above water while swimming, and gently place a waterproof earplug or cotton ball coated with petroleum jelly in the ear when your child showers or bathes. Children also should not forcefully blow their noses until the eardrum is completely healed.
If a ruptured or perforated eardrum doesn't heal on its own within about 4 weeks, a child might need to see a pediatric otolaryngologist or ENT (ear, nose, and throat doctor). After an exam and hearing testing, the otolaryngologist or ENT may recommend an eardrum patch. During this procedure, a chemical is applied to the edges of the rupture to stimulate growth and healing, then a paper patch is placed over the area to protect it. This might have to be done a few times before the eardrum is fully healed.
If all other treatments fail, a specialist might perform a surgery known as a tympanoplasty. In this procedure, a small patch of a child's own tissue is grafted onto the affected eardrum to close the tear. This is a relatively simple surgery, and kids usually can leave the hospital the same day.
In some cases, such as an accidental blow to the ear, it's impossible to prevent an eardrum injury. But other cases of eardrum perforation are entirely preventable.
Here are some ways you and your kids can reduce the odds of an injury:
|American Speech-Language-Hearing Association This group provides services for professionals in audiology, speech-language pathology, and speech and hearing science, and advocates for people with communication disabilities.|
|American Academy of Family Physicians This site, operated by the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), provides information on family physicians and health care, a directory of family physicians, and resources on health conditions.|
|American Academy of Audiology The American Academy of Audiology, the world's largest professional organization of, by and for more than 10,000 audiologists, is dedicated to providing quality hearing care to the public.|
|Word! Eardrum Your eardrum is a really important part of your ear.|
|Middle Ear Infections Ear infections are common among kids and, often, painful. Find out what causes them and how they're treated.|
|First Aid: Earaches An earache requires a visit to the doctor's office. Here's what to do if your child complains of ear pain.|
|Your Ears Now hear this! Here's an article about ears. Find out how your amazing ears do their amazing job.|
|Swimmer's Ear (Otitis Externa) Swimmer's ear is an infection of the ear canal caused by many types of bacteria or fungi. Find out how to prevent it.|
|Perforated Eardrum Perforated eardrums can really hurt. And if you can't hear as well as usual, they can be scary. The good news is, most people who have them get all their hearing back eventually.|
|Perforated Eardrum The eardrum in your ear can get a hole in it. Find out how in this article for kids.|
|Earbuds Earbuds are basically a tiny pair of speakers that go inside the ears. They're fine at low volumes, but they can cause permanent hearing loss if not used properly. Find out what's safe (and not) in this article for teens.|
|Dealing With Earwax Earwax helps protect the eardrum and fight infection. Parents shouldn't attempt to remove earwax at home, as doing so risks damage to the ear canal and, possibly, a child's hearing.|
|Is Earwax Removal Safe? Is it OK to use cotton swabs to remove earwax?|
|What's Hearing Loss? Hearing loss happens when there is a problem with one or more parts of the ear or ears. Someone who has hearing loss may be able to hear some sounds or nothing at all. To learn more, read this article for kids.|
|Hearing Evaluation in Children Hearing problems can be treated if they're caught early, so it's important to get your child's hearing screened early and evaluated regularly.|
|Hearing Impairment Hearing impairment occurs when there's a problem with or damage to one or more parts of the ear. The degree of impairment can vary widely. Find out its causes and what can be done to help correct it.|
|A to Z: Impacted Cerumen Learn more about imnpacted earwax build-up, which can cause temporary hearing loss and ear pain.|
|Swimmer's Ear (External Otitis) External otitis (swimmer's ear) is an infection of the ear canal that can be caused by different types of bacteria or fungi. Find out how to prevent or treat it.|
|Taking Care of Your Ears How do you take care of your ears? Find out in this article for kids.|
|A to Z: Hearing Loss, Mixed Learn about causes of hearing loss and conditions that can affect the ear and auditory nerve.|
|A to Z: Hearing Loss, Conductive Learn about causes of hearing loss and conditions that can affect the outer ear and middle ear.|
|What Happens When a Doctor Removes Earwax? Find out what the experts have to say.|
|What Is an Ear Infection? A middle ear infection happens when germs like bacteria and viruses get in your middle ear and cause trouble. Read this article to find out more.|
|Swimmer's Ear You swam! You splashed! And now you have it: swimmer's ear.|
|Ear Injuries Ear injuries not only can affect a child's hearing, but sense of balance, too. That's because our ears also help keep us steady on our feet.|
|Can Loud Music Hurt My Ears? Loud music can cause temporary and permanent hearing loss. Learn how to protect your ears so you won't be saying, "Huh? What did you say?"|
|Senses Experiment: Model Eardrum How does the eardrum work? Find out by trying this experiment.|
|Word! Ear Canal You'll need a mirror to do it, but take a good look at your ear.|
|Ears Hearing is their main job, but it's not all your ears do. Find out all about them in this body basics article for teens.|
|What's Earwax? Why do our ears make earwax? Find out in this article for kids.|
What to expect when coming to Akron Children's
For healthcare providers and nurses
Residency & Fellowships, Medical Students, Nursing and Allied Health
For prospective employees and career-seekers
Our online community that provides inspirational stories and helpful information.