What is a ruptured eardrum?

    A ruptured eardrum is a tear or a hole in your eardrum (also called the tympanic membrane). The eardrum is a thin membrane that separates your ear canal from your middle ear. This membrane vibrates when sound waves strike it, starting the process of converting sound waves into nerve impulses that travel to your brain. The membrane also acts as a shield, protecting your inner ear from bacteria and debris.


    What causes a ruptured eardrum?

    Causes include:

    •   Middle ear infection(otitis media). The pressure of fluid in your middle ear can cause your eardrum to rupture

    •   Changes in air pressure (barotraumas). Flying in an airplane or diving can cause a build up of pressure on your ear, resulting in a ruptured eardrum

    •   Foreign objectin your ear. Small objects such as a cotton swab or a bobby pin pushed too far into your ear canal can rupture your eardrum

    •   Loud, sudden noiseA sudden, extremely loud noise, such as from an explosion or a firearm, can rupture your eardrum.


    How will the doctor treat this problem?

    In most cases, a ruptured eardrum heals on its own within a few weeks to a few months. Your doctor will want to see you regularly while your eardrum is healing to make sure everything is going well. The most important thing you can do is to keep your ear dry during the healing process. Here are some things you can do at home to help your eardrum heal and to stay comfortable while it is healing:

    •   Keep your ear dry. Place a cotton ball with Vaseline in your ear when showering, bathing or washing your hair

    •   Do not clean your ears while the eardrum is healing

    •   Do not go swimming until the doctor tells you that the ruptured eardrum has healed completely

    •   Avoid blowing your nose. The pressure created when blowing your nose can damage a healing eardrum

    •   Use over-the-counter pain relievers to ease ear pain. Some choices are aspirin, Advil, Motrin or Aleve. Ask your doctor what’s best for you. Antibiotics are generally used to treat a ruptured eardrum only when an ear infection caused the problem


    Will my hearing return to normal?

    Any hearing loss you suffer should go away once the tear or hole in your eardrum has healed. To be sure your hearing has returned to normal, your doctor may recommend that you make an appointment for a hearing evaluation once the rupture has completely healed.


    What if my eardrum doesn't heal?

    In most cases, a ruptured eardrum will heal without any special treatment. If your eardrum doesn't heal within three months, your doctor may refer you to a specialist to talk about treatment, including surgery.


    This document is intended to provide health related information so that you may be better informed. It is not a substitute for your care team's medical advice and should not be relied upon for treatment for specific medical conditions.

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