Perforated Eardrum

What Is It?

The eardrum is a thin membrane that separates your ear canal (the part that is open to the outside) from your middle ear. The eardrum, also called the tympanic membrane, is involved in hearing. Sound waves cause your eardrum to vibrate. This begins the process of converting the sound waves into an impulse that travels to your brain, where it is recognized as sound.

The eardrum is delicate and can be torn (perforated) easily, most often by an infection of the middle ear (otitis media) but also by other types of trauma, including:

  • Inserting an object, such as a cotton swab or toothpick, too far into the ear

  • A very loud noise, such as an explosion

  • Trauma to the head, such as a skull fracture

  • A blow to the ear

  • Trauma to the ear caused by changes in air pressure (barotraumas), such as during a plane flight or scuba diving


Symptoms of a perforated eardrum include:

  • Earache or sudden relief of an earache

  • Hearing loss in the affected ear

  • Bleeding or fluid discharge from the ear canal

  • Ringing noise in the ear

The level of hearing loss depends on the size of the perforation and what caused it. Trauma to the ear or head can injure the middle ear, inner ear or both, and can cause severe hearing loss. If an explosion has torn the eardrum, you may have ringing in your ears (tinnitus) for several days, as well as hearing loss. If the perforated eardrum becomes infected, the hearing loss may worsen.

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