Ruptured Eardrum

The eardrum works with the middle and inner ear to help you hear. The eardrum conveys sounds to your brain. It also protects the middle ear from bacteria, water and foreign objects.

A ruptured eardrum (tympanic membrane) is an opening or hole in the eardrum. Damage to the eardrum may harm hearing.

Patients can be seen by Texas Children's experts in Ear Nose and Throat (Otolaryngology).

Causes & Risk Factors

Causes include:

  • An infection of the middle ear
  • A loud noise
  • Injury to the ear
  • Sudden change in air pressure (such as when flying in an airplane)

On some occasions, a small hole may persist after a previously pressure-equalizing (PE) tube falls out or is removed by a physician.

Symptoms & Types

Symptoms include:

  • Trouble hearing
  • Earache
  • Discharge from the ear
  • Ringing or buzzing in the ear (tinnitus)

Diagnosis & Tests

Your child's doctor will examine the ear by using an instrument called an otoscope. This allows the doctor to see inside the ear. If your child has a ruptured eardrum, the doctor will be able to see a hole or tear in the eardrum.

The doctor may recommend your child have a hearing test (called an audiogram).

Treatment & Care

Most ruptured eardrums heal within a couple of months. Treatment consists of:

  • Medication to treat the pain
  • Antibiotics if the ear is infected
  • Surgery if the rupture is severe or if the eardrum does not heal on its own

Living & Managing

Precautions you should take while the ear heals:

  • Do not get your child's ear wet
  • Cover the ears when you bathe your baby. You can use a shower cap or gently place a petroleum jelly coated ball of cotton in the ear
  • Your child should not go swimming while the eardrum heals

Ongoing prevention includes:

  • Do not insert objects into the ear canal, such as cotton swabs, even to clean it
  • Only a healthcare provider should remove objects stuck in the ear
  • See the doctor promptly if you suspect your child has an ear infection