Perforated Eardrum

What is a perforated eardrum?

A perforated eardrum, also known as a tympanic membrane perforation, is a hole or tear in the eardrum. The eardrum is a membrane-thin but resilient structure that serves two purposes in the human ear.

The first of these functions is to capture sound energy and transfer it to the hearing bones and thus on to the hearing organ (the cochlea). The second function is as a barrier to protect the delicate hearing bones and organ from exposure to water, infection, and other dangers of the outside world.

doctor consulting patient

Perforated Eardrum Symptoms

Depending on the location and size of a perforation, patients may develop symptoms including:

  • dizziness
  • ear drainage
  • ear pain
  • hearing loss
  • jaw pain
  • odor coming from the ear
  • tinnitus (ringing in the ear)

For people with a hearing aid, a perforation may make the device difficult to use and, in many cases, painful to wear. Additionally, most people with a perforated eardrum have difficulty submerging the ear in water.

Left untreated, a perforation may continue to grow. This can increase the risk of infection, hearing loss, and permanent ear damage.

If you have been diagnosed with a perforated eardrum, or are concerned you may be experiencing the symptoms of one, please contact our ENT department. We will promptly schedule you for a consultation with our neurotologist/otologist.

Perforated Eardrum Treatment

Not all perforated eardrums require treatment. Small perforations, in some cases, can be tolerated and simply observed by your doctor. Other perforations, such as those occurring from certain types of infection and/or penetrating trauma, may spontaneously heal.

However, perforations that constitute more than 10-15% of the eardrum surface are both unlikely to heal and more prone to complications.

Additional Information

Who gets perforated eardrums?

Eardrums can develop holes from a variety of different causes. These may include:

  • ear infections
  • penetrating trauma (foreign objects)
  • pressure waves/blast injuries
  • otherwise beneficial medical treatments, like ear tubes for children

How is a perforated eardrum diagnosed?

A primary care doctor, an audiologist, or a general ENT (ear, nose, and throat) doctor can usually diagnose a perforated eardrum simply by viewing the inside of the ear with a lighted instrument. Additional hearing tests may be recommended to check for any related hearing loss.

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The eardrum is about 9 mm in diameterrr
Medically Reviewed by Shawn Michael Stevens, MD, FACS on April 23, 2021