If you are experiencing ear pain, there are several possible causes. You may have an ear infection, a buildup of earwax, or a foreign object in the ear. Ear pain can also be caused by changes in air pressure, such as on an airplane, or by water trapped in the ear.
However, if you experience a severe earache, which may be accompanied by hearing loss in the affected ear, you may have a ruptured eardrum. The eardrum, or the tympanic membrane, is a thin tissue that separates the ear canal from the middle ear. When this tissue is torn, it is referred to as a ruptured eardrum. This condition is also called a perforated eardrum or tympanic membrane perforation.
In addition to a severe earache, you may also experience the following symptoms if you have a ruptured eardrum:
- Buzzing or ringing in the affected ear
- Hearing loss in the ear
- Dizziness or a loss of balance
- Drainage from the ear that may contain blood
- A blocked feeling in the ear
- A whistling sound through the ear when you blow your nose
If a ruptured eardrum is causing the earache, the pain may go away suddenly. The severity of hearing loss will also depend on the size of the perforation in the eardrum.
The following are common causes of a ruptured eardrum:
- Injury or trauma to the ear – A head injury, blow to the head, or direct trauma to the ear can cause a ruptured eardrum.
- Ear infection – A severe ear infection can cause a ruptured eardrum, as can repeated mild infections.
- Loud noises – An extremely loud noise or explosion near the ear can lead to a ruptured eardrum. You may also experience a ringing in the ears (tinnitus) following the loud noise or explosion.
- Inserting an object in the ear – You should avoid inserting any objects into your ear. Objects like a cotton swab, pencil, or bobby pin can tear the eardrum.
- Ear barotrauma – Changes in air or water pressure can damage the ear, called ear barotrauma. A change in pressure like this can create a vacuum in the inner ear, which pulls the eardrum inward and can tear the membrane.
If you believe you may have ruptured your eardrum, you should see a doctor. Your primary care physician or an audiologist will be able to determine whether your eardrum has ruptured by using an instrument called an otoscope to see inside your ear. If the eardrum is perforated, your doctor will also be able to tell the size of the tear.
In most cases, a ruptured eardrum will heal itself within one to three months. NSAIDs like ibuprofen can help to relieve the earache and reduce inflammation. A warm compress on the ear can also help to relieve mild ear pain. If you have an ear infection, your doctor may prescribe oral antibiotics or antibiotic eardrops. In the rare cases when a ruptured eardrum does not heal itself, a surgical procedure known as tympanoplasty may be needed to repair the membrane.
For more information about ruptured eardrums, or if you suspect you may have a ruptured eardrum, we invite you to contact our audiology practice today. We look forward to caring for you!