6 Symptoms of a Ruptured Ear Drum

A ruptured eardrum is a perforation in the tympanic membrane that separates the outer and middle ear. A ruptured eardrum can result in complications, such as ear infections and possible permanent hearing loss, if left untreated. While severe cases may require surgery, a ruptured eardrum will typically heal on its own in about eight weeks.

The tympanic membrane is a layer of very thin, skin-like tissue that serves to sense and convert sound waves, or vibrations, into nerve impulses. The eardrum transmits the vibrations to the small bones, called ossicles, in the middle ear that your brain translates into sound. The eardrum also protects the middle and inner ear from infections and foreign objects.

Many people never notice symptoms of a perforated eardrum. Others will notice a general discomfort in their ear or hear or feel air passing through their ear when blowing their nose. This is because blowing your nose will cause air to rise up to fill the space in the inner ear that causes the membrane to expand outward. However, air will be able to escape if there is a hole in the membrane.

Sometimes the sound of escaping air can be loud enough for others standing close by to hear. Infections from bacteria, viruses and fungi are the most common causes of a perforated eardrum. Conversely, a perforated eardrum can also result in periodic ear infections. Other symptoms of a ruptured tympanic membrane may include a sudden pain in the ear, drainage from the ear, reduced hearing, a buzzing or ringing in your ear, a spinning sensation or vertigo.

1. Ear Pain

While discomfort may not always be present, perforations of the tympanic membrane usually results in pain if the cause of the rupture is infectious or from the result of trauma. Typically, the presence of pain or the lack thereof is dependent on the size and the underlying cause of the rupture.

Mild to severe pain may increase for a prolonged period of time before abruptly decreasing. The pain may be dull or sharp, continual or be intermittent. These variables have many controlling factors, including the size of the perforation and the location of the hole on the surface of the membrane.

Infections are usually the primary cause of a ruptured ear drum. Fluid buildup from a viral infection behind the tympanic membrane can lead to a subsequent bacterial infection. The infection can cause pressure to build up behind the inner ear and in the Eustachian tube. This in turn exerts pressure on the tympanic membrane, causing it to stretch. If the buildup of pressure becomes severe enough it can cause the membrane to rupture.

Unless the perforation was caused by sudden trauma, there is usually no pain in the absence of infection. Acoustic trauma in the form a sudden strong vibration, like an extremely loud noise, strong wind or impact from water, can cause the membrane to suddenly rupture, resulting in a sharp pain.