What is a Ruptured Ear Drum?

The ear drum is a thin membrane that separates the middle ear from the outer ear. Sometimes the ear drum can develop a hole and expose the middle ear structures to the outer ear. This is a ruptured ear drum.

The function of the ear drum is to conduct sound waves. When you hear sound, it causes the ear drum to vibrate which in turn moves the three small bones of the inner ear: hammer, anvil, and the stirrups. These are the main sound-conducting bones of the ear that allows one to interpret sounds.

If the ear drum is ruptured, bacteria and other things like dirt can travel through the perforation. The bacteria can cause an infection in the middle ear that can damage the delicate hearing bones and other structures.

What causes a ruptured ear drum in the first place? There are several reasons, one being an ear infection. An infection can cause a build-up of fluid in the middle ear and the ear drum breaks from the increase in pressure.

Ruptured ear drums also occur from trauma. A fall or a sudden or prolonged exposure to loud sounds may cause the ear drum to rupture. Using things like cotton swabs in the ear canal can also cause a rupture. Digging in the ear with other dangerous things like hair pins or paper clips can tear this membrane.

How will you know if your child has ruptured his or her ear drum? Your child may have a significant amount of pain in the ear. This pain may worsen over time and can be accompanied by discharge. The drainage can be pus from a build-up of fluid after a cold or sinus infection, blood or foul-smelling discharge. It can also be clear. The key is that it is draining from the ear for no reason.

Some children and adults experience hearing loss as a result of a ruptured ear drum. That can be followed by sounds like buzzing in the ear. This results from the opening between the outer and middle ear and air passing through.

Any of these symptoms require a doctor’s attention. Only he can tell if there is a rupture or an infection or both. He will look inside the ear with an otoscope to better visualize the area.

A ruptured ear drum will heal on its own in a couple of months as long as there is no infection present. The doctor may prescribe antibiotic drops or oral antibiotics to clear up any infections. Pain medication over the counter usually works to manage any discomfort as it heals. Keeping ear canals covered in the presence of water (a shower) also helps with healing.

If you think your child has a ruptured ear drum, see the doctor immediately.